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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

THE GUARD (2011)

John Michael McDonagh’s debut as writer/director is made up almost entirely of familiar (make that over-familiar) elements: foul-mouthed eccentric cop is a brilliant mess at his job, a loner who thrives in the Irish boonies, dabbling on the dark side of cases while tending to his dying ma. Right now, he’s grooming a new, disposable partner fresh from Dublin when a fancy Yank from the FBI shows up, a black intellectual sort, working on a monster drug deal going down locally. But even if you think you’ve seen this kind of set-up once too often, McDonagh (older brother of Irish playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh) freshens the template by streamlining his narrative to work largely as character comedy between Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle playing out theme & variations on the old ‘ebony & ivory’ wisecracking routine. The gag, in its post-modern form, is as old as Burt Lancaster & Ossie Davis and as recent as Christoph Waltz & Jamie Fox, yet these guys beat the both of them. (Cheadle is really a remarkably resourceful actor.) Perhaps the trick is in the cool, clean visual presentation that shows a welcome influence from our best deadpan filmmaking moralist, Aki Kaurismäki, though without his signature blissed-out endings. McDonagh instantly becomes a man to watch.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Sony Classics should have found a better title for its Stateside release.

DOUBLE-BILL: It’s not just Gleeson’s Falstaffian girth that brings Orson Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL/’58 to mind. Hmm, does that mean Cheadle’s in the Chuck Heston spot? Cool.

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