Film moments #29: The Guard (2011)

Playing with genre: One of the most extreme versions of how many types of story there are has it that there are only two: the fish out of water and the stranger comes to town. The Guard, a low-budget film set and filmed in Ireland, starring Brendan Gleeson as on old-style garda policing the back end of beyond, manages to combine both.

The MacGuffin is a cargo of drugs that’s going to get dropped off the coast some time soon that has, improbably, attracted the attention of the FBI in general, and in particular a rather smooth by-the-book black detective, Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle.

When the stranger comes to town meets the fish out of water, you get the odd couple, of course. What I like about The Guard is that it is a straight genre piece, but that it plays with our expectations of genre to put a smile on our faces. It also benefits from a tightly written script (by the director, John Michael McDonagh).

The top drugs smuggler, for example, benefits from a laconic self-awareness:

CORNELL: I’m just sick and tired of the kind of people we have to deal with in this business.

O’LEARY: What do you expect? We’re drugs traffickers.

SHEEHY: The Dalai Llama’s hardly going to be looking for a piece of the action.

CORNELL: It’s dispiriting, though. What’s the point? It’s all all so f*cking meaningless.

O’LEARY: The money?

CORNELL: The money, yeah. How much money do you need to be happy?

There is, inevitably, a wheeler-dealing kid on a bike who has come straight out of a Bill Forsyth screenplay. Of course, the two cops are thrown together and come to respect and even like each other after a difficult start.

The moment: a smart piece of writing near the end (no spoiler) where the screenwriter lets us know that he knows that we know that he’s been playing at genre:

PHOTOGRAPHER: [Takes photograph] That’s a good one now, moody. You can use it for the cover of your book.

EVERETT: What book?

PHOTGRAPHER: Ah, you yorks are always writing books about your f*cking experiences. Probably sell it to the movies then, a fish out of water story, eh? Lots of action, a bit of humour, throw in a couple of young ones getting their kit off and you’re well away.

EVERETT: You need a happy ending to sell it.

Is there a happy ending? Well, that would be telling, and in truth I’m not sure that I know. It’s left hanging.


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