The Guard. Directed by John McDonough (Written by him, too. See also In Bruges, review attached… maybe). Starring: Brendan Gleeson (who’s pretty much established himself as the only Irish actor these days and go-to guy for Irishitude), Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham (Guess where he’s from?), Rory Keenan (Same), Fionnula Flannagan (C’mon!), Dominique McElligott (Well, hell… Mom was French), Katarina Cas (Can you figure out who plays the Romanian visa-vixen or maybe Croatian… oh, sure, like there’s a difference).
Oirish as Paddy’s pig.
Aristotle’s eiron, the self-deprecator, plays at being a dummy only to emerge the victor in a struggle (as don’t the rest of us actual dummies wish…) with smart guys who mis-read him. As Don Cheadle’s FBI tightass declares early on (lest you miss it, you bozo), Gerald Boyle, sergeant of the Garda in the sea-battered, thatch-roofed, allbutforgotten West Ireland precinct of Galway (they say “Dublin” the way we say “New York”) is either “motherf#$**%ckin’ smart or motherf#*$*%ckin’ dumb” (FBI guys talk like that, turns out). Who opts for the latter condition is subject to find himself on a slab sommeres, to his woe… and to our amusement since the violence is, yeah, yeah, shattering but brief and mostly cartoony. The theme here you can pick up (and should) with Philippe Noiret in a flick called Coup de torchon (1981: usually translated “Gone with All About Eve Kane”), set in Cameroun (or Guinée or Tchad or Gabon, yeah, like there’s a difference) in the 1930’s where a paunchy, lethargic dumbo of a local constable outwits malefactors and superiors who’ve taken him for less than he is (Aristotle’s definition of the eiron). This sort of thing can be enormously satisfying to watch (frustration, humiliation, bondage… of someone else) since most of us are neither smart enough nor dumb enough to pull it off but just about smart enough to appreciate how it can happen… and of course dumb enough to dream about executing some clever stratagem ourselves, winding up an exile in Dee-Moines with the Romanian sylph and a footlocker full of Franklins and our monster integrity… the one we swallowed to make middle management.
Anyhow. Gerry Boyle, guard(ian) of the Law in Connemara, rifles the occasional dead for the odd crack of cocaine, tosses their dwellings for cash, spends his day off with prostitutes imported from a mysterious “agency” in Dublin (source of sophistication, tight skirts, loose hips, and the itchies… Gomorrah to Connemara’s um, er… Sodom I guess), lives in a moral mist not unlike the one that shrouds the ancient bogs and ancestral haunts of pucas and druids of this sea-girt arena in which one of God’s lesser creatures rears up from the um, er… peat, I guess, he’s sunken into to defy the malevolent forces (in olden times Immortals, today Immorals, drug dealers and petty administrators, “bent,” in the term of art by the temptation of money and power) marshaled against him (and us, by the bye) in a golden moment, instructive to the rest of us ciphers who fancy our lives of quiet desperation. Boyle, lumbering giant of a man with a swollen belly (pale, fleshy thighs of which we see too much, alas) and great basketball of a head from whose bulbous features nonetheless considerable delicacy radiates the time come, galumphs across the greensward, through the pubs, over the asphalt of a New World, ungainly and ill-tempered, yet finds his element in the sea (whence life), souvenir of younger days (we think) when as a free-style swimmer he made the Olympics, only to finish out of the money, fourth. His tenderness he manifests for creatures of even lesser stature than himself, the who troubled young woman beaten by a brute, the bewildered wife lost in a foreign land and widowed early, the doomed urchin pedaling his training wheels to nowhere alongside a scofular mutt, his own mother, gnawed by some unnamed wasting disease and gamely facing the End of Things, a dainty hand set fragilely upon the huge, meaty paw of her truant son as they both face that knowledge.
The crisis, in the event, arrives along with a shipment of drugs (that’s “droogs,” in the Irish and a viewer would do well to pay attention to the vowel-shifts at play here: “guard” > “gayrd”; “f#*$*%ckin’” > “fookin’” > “feckin’”; “sh$*%*^t” > “shoit” > “shyte”) that the whole of Galway has evidently conspired to welcome with the sole exception of Boyle, who despite menace and temptation and inertia, determines to prevent it. In this he finds a starchy if reluctant second in the person of Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, playing straightman in this one, frequently reduced to stunned, bug-eyed silence by Boyle’s one-liners: “I’m Irish. Racism is part of me culture.”), FBI agent on the case, like the drug-smugglers dismissive of Boyle until he’s violently disabused of his misperception (He went, he announces in the first moments of conversation—like who ever met one who didn’t—to Yale and summered in the Hamptons, surest signs of superficiality and smug self-assurance, just waiting for the comeuppance that never seem to happen in our venue. Even the baddies have their levity (amid bursts of commedia del arte—variously pronounced—brutality): When was the last time a henchman cited Nietzsche (Extra points: When exactly was that, anyhow)? Well, we resolve it all in a feel-good (sorta) moment and redeem Boyle’s/our dignity through the sort of heroic sacrifice we expect of heroes but not of Lumpenproles (Boyle visits Disneyland—as an adult—to have a photo taken with his favorite, Goofy).
A flick almost perfect… and thus sure to be stiffed by the Academy (and the academy), more’s the pity.
Extra credit: Kevin Kline’s Otto (“It’sa Italian. Itsa mean ‘eight’”) from A Fish Called Wanda, where he even cites the Krau I mean German, Also Sprach Zarathustra.