The Guard Review
Review # 152
Director – John Michael McDonagh
Cast – Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Laurence Kinlan
The Guard first came to my attention because the director, John Michael McDonagh, is the brother of the director of one of my favourite movies, In Bruges. That movie also starred Brendan Gleeson. My expectations were up, and I hoped for something akin to the dark humour and bleak tone of the former. While it definitely retains a dark sense of humour, the tone doesn’t seem as consistent, or as defined.
Of course, it is a bad habit (of which I am constantly guilty) to judge a movie merely because another one did something better. And while this isn’t as sharp as In Bruges (by a long shot), it is still a good movie. To be good rather than “Great” isn’t a horrible thing.
Plot wise, we follow Brendan Gleeson’s gleefully un-PC Irish cop (or “Garda”). He has been partnered with an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle), who is in Ireland to hunt down a gang of drug traffickers. In accordance with cop movie tradition they are two very different people. Gleeson is “unconventional”, while Cheadle goes by the book. Gleeson doesn’t mind making snide little jokes to Cheadle about his skin colour, and Cheadle has to try to learn to take them as a joke, as they are meant. Their relationship isn’t as “buddy cop” as a Riggs and Murtaugh, but the elements are there.
Brendan Gleeson is the standout in the film, of course, as he usually is. With his dry wit, cheeky jokes, and general orneriness, he creates an enormously fun character. It is a joy to watch Don Cheadle’s FBI agent do his best to keep up. He doesn’t succeed of course, but that’s the point of his character. He just sits by, rolls his eyes, and tries to catch Gleeson when he decides to come back to Earth once in a while.
The trio of drug traffickers are played play Mark Strong, David Wilmot, and Liam Cunningham. Again, poor Mark Strong, doing the villain thing. You can’t deny, he’s good at it. Here we get the impression he doesn’t like the job he finds himself doing. He’s disgusted by bent cops, and wishes for a special relationship. We don’t find him sympathetic, though, he sneers his lines out in a delicious way. He really is one of the best villain actors I can think of.
All in all, the best I can do is reiterate that importance of Gleeson’s character to the movie. As the main character of course he carries a lot of the weight anyway, but the uniqueness of the character he creates can not be under estimated. He is the heart of the movie, and the success of the ambiguous way in which the movie ends can be attributed mainly to him. A strong actor with a strong script is a wonderful thing to see.
The Guard is a dark, witty, and unique movie, whose success is due mainly to Brendan Gleeson’s wonderful turn as Sergeant Gerry Boyle. This is not to underestimate the other actors, Cheadle in particular. For those who enjoy an ambiguous ending, dark humour, and smart writing, this movie is for you.
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In Bruges REVIEW
Director – Martin McDonagh
Cast – Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farell, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten
In Bruges features Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Colin Farell (Ray) as hitmen who have been ordered by their boss Harry, played by Ralph Fiennes, to “hide out” in the Belgian town of Bruges after Ray botched a kill. Botched as in “killed a little kid as well as the target”.
The town of Bruges, in Belgium, is a quaint little town. Some may find it boring. Ray certainly does. Ken on the other hand relishes the medieval atmosphere and the sights which can be seen. He pulls Ray around with him, walking through the winding streets or going on little boat tours of the idyllic canals. The only time we see Ray get excited is when he sees a film crew filming a dream sequence at night. “Look, they’re filming midgets!” Ray is not too bright. Thankfully, Ken is. Yin and yang.
Apparently the idea for this film came from writer/first time director Martin McDonagh’s trip to Bruges. He found himself intrigued by both the wonder and boredom he found himself feeling. This is key to the movie’s tone. It is a comedy, but a pitch black one, even to the point of melancholy. It has the feel of a dying man finding something hilarious. Farell and Gleeson play their two sides of this particular coin very well. Farell in particular reveals comic talents I never knew he had. These are fully dimensional characters, but sketched very minimally, fleshed out perfectly by the actors. By the end we find ourselves believing utterly in every move these two make.
I should also mention that the actions the characters take and the directions in which the movie goes are almost totally devoid of cliché and routine. It truly is difficult, even impossible, to guess where the movie will go. The plot is a result of the characters actions, not visa versa. This is so refreshing to see.
Unfortunately, many will find In Bruges’ weird mix of serious comedy and dramatic lunacy to be a turn off. It’s too different, too unpredictable. It is of course for this very reason that I am commending this movie. It was certainly not made for too mainstream an audience, and for that I am eternally grateful.
In Bruges is weird, wacky, and wonderful. It is quick-witted, unique without labouring the point, and full of strong characters. This is truly the result of a director with a unique vision who managed to dodge all the studios usual meddling. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to see a different kind of movie.
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Director – Peter Weir
Cast – Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Danny Glover, Brent Jennigs, Jossef Sommer, Alexander Godunov, Patti LuPone, Viggo Mortensen
Witness follows the story of a young Amish boy (played by Lukas Haas) who sees a murder take place. He later identifies the murderer to John Book (Harrison Ford). The hitch is that the murderer is a cop (Danny Glover), and when Ford reveals this to his boss (who turn out to be in cahoots with Glover), Ford goes into hiding with Haas to his Amish town. John Book falls in love with the boy’s mother, which of course, complicates things, and ends up driving the majority of the story along.
Witness was directed by Peter Weir, the Austrailian director of such films as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Fearless, and The Year of Living Dangerously. This film was his first real crack at the North American market, and it certainly made his name there. Audiences reacted so well that a film Weir had been previously trying (unsuccesfully) to make, The Mosquito Coast, was immediately given the green light. Critics reaction was also largely positive. The movie has also enjoyed popularity through numerous late-night cable airings, as well as for the many parodies of its “vanilla ice cream” scene, where an Amish man’s face is demeaningly smeared with ice cream by a local thug, who promptly gets a hay-maker or two from Harrison Ford.
Witness combines genres in an attempt to create a distinct tone. This is an admirable idea in principle, but I found that the transitions between genres were jarring. We bounce back and forth throughout the film between police thriller, inter-cultural melodrama, and romance from scene to scene. The flow wasn’t consistent in that respect. Couldn’t we have scenes that mix all three aspects? Of all the aspects that the movie focuses on, the”cop genre” feels the most heavy handed. When the shoot out at the end of the movie comes, it almost feels tacked on to create a suitable ending. I would have personally liked a non-violent ending, but the violence does feel a bit warranted and is fairly realistic. I guess I just want a cop movie with no shootout at the end. Too much to hope? Perhaps.
Lukas Haas, playing the naively innocent Amish boy, is a wonderful find , but the chemistry between Kelly McGillis and Harrsion Ford is the main reason that this movie works as well as it does. McGillis is excellent, and even though this is not Ford’s best work, as some say (personally I think his best work is in his next film, The Mosquito Coast), he carries a sense of compassion and the qualities of an everyman that remind us of a tough James Stewart. In the end, this is really what Ford is best at.
Witness works best when it focuses on its story of culture clash, with Ford’s tough cop forced to hide with peace loving and down to earth Amish. The movie unfortunately strays a bit with its romantic story-line, and the ending is a bit of a cop out, but this is a solid movie. All in all I think it is one of Peter Weir’s lesser works, despite being one of his most famous. But enjoy the good performances (including Viggo Mortenson’s film debut in a small role), and go for the ride. Definitely recommended.
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Gone Baby Gone REVIEW
Director – Ben Affleck
Cast – Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Harris
Gone Baby Gone follows a young detective couple as they try to track down a young kidnapped girl in Boston. The plot is a tad convoluted, but both Ben Affleck’s direction and the editing of the film give us what we need to know.
When we think of Ben Affleck we don’t usually think of a director. We think of an actor, and one whose films have not necessarily been received that well critically. This film is not actually his directing debut as has been hyped, (he has directed two others, but neither found their way to theaters). However, it certainly forces us to re-examine how we see this star. If asked before seeing this movie if he was capable of thoughtful, meaningful, tense cinema, I doubt many would have thought it possible. Yet here we have exactly that.
The script is based of a book by the same author as the critically acclaimed Mystic River, so it should come as no surprise that the story is great. Ben Affleck co-wrote this screenplay, as he did with his Oscar-winning script for Good Will Hunting. It tackles some major issues here. The climax is not, as in most cop thrillers, a shoot out. Instead we get a moral dilemma, and a doozy of one at that. I will not go into details, but suffice it to say that the ending will undoubtedly keep you thinking and debating with others who have seen it. It is truly moving.
The acting is great. Ben’s younger brother Casey (who is fast becoming a name of his own) is pitch perfect casting in the lead role of a spunky yet conflicted detective. Michelle Monaghan is surprisingly effective, and Morgan Freeman continues with his warm mentor thing. But Ed Harris and Amy Ryan really delivers the knock-out performances here. He plays a character who is tough, yet human, with a clear sense of his values. She plays a grieving mother who just happened to be a “white trash” crack addict. All the characters here are wonderfully rounded, with not one of them being a stereotype.
I should mention some of the “action scenes” as well. There is one particular scene where Casey Affleck and Ed Harris raid a house, and some gun play ensues. It is an extremely good scene, compact and tense, with not a shot wasted. It holds interest without going on too long, which some gun fights tend to do.
This is a great crime thriller, one of the best. Some may find it’s language and harsh violence off putting, but it is presented in an extremely realistic way, giving the film weight and honesty. Be prepared afterwards to talk about the tough moral issues it raises. Definitely recommended.
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Director- Rian Johnson
Cast- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary
Brick is a strange movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it does is take all the stereotypes of 30’s film noir films and place them in a high school setting, and infuse it all with a great sense of sincerity. The main character is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he does a wonderful job. The other actors do a great job as well, and the girl who plays Laura, the “femme fatale” is nothing less than captivating.
One of the only problems I have with the movie is the portrayal of “The Pin”, a 28ish year old drug dealer who has control of the local drug trade. While all the other characters dress and act as the teenagers they are, they dressed this character in a black 18th century overcoat and gave him a gold tipped cane. The casting was very odd as well. They cast Lukas Haas, his only other really noteworthy role being the little Amish boy in Witness. The ending result was a character that looked like a baby faced Dracula, making him stick out like a sore thumb. Having said that, the rest of the film is so riveting that the viewer eventually just accepts the character.
The sequence where the main character, Brendan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, lets himself be beat up repeatedly so he could get to “The Pin”, the drug dealer, is great. Joseph plays it with such stubbornness that you can’t help feel on his side. It is played with some humour as well. In the end the thug gives in; the little smile Joseph gives is pitch perfect.
Sure it’s a little muddled, but its energy and sheer inventiveness make up for it. To put it simply, you dont have time to ask questions. It just barrels forwardand taakes you for the ride. And a mighty enjoyable ride at that.
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