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The Irish Movie Everyone Should See

                St. Patrick’s Day is the day people the world over celebrate everything stereotypically insultingly Irish. But before we take a nosedive into green beer the quantity of which amounts to euthanasia for your liver, maybe it’d be good to look at some genuine Irish culture, its remarkable uniqueness and contributions often overlooked to the world.
                Or we could just watch some great Irish movies. And there’s one recent movie in particular I think should get far more attention than it has, even for an Irish film.
                The Guard is an Irish dramedy film released in 2011 written and directed by John Michael McDonagh whose brother Martin wrote and directed the highly recommended In Bruges.  The film in an homage and parody of buddy cop films stars Brendan Gleeson (a terrific actor though doomed to only be recognized as “that guy who was Moody in Harry Potter”) as Gerry Boyle a sergeant with the Irish police force, the Garda Síochána who is paired with FBI agent Wendell Everett played by Don Cheadle to bust an elaborate drug trafficking operation. Boyle is old-school Irish, stubborn and racist which of course leads to culture shock and a very fish-out-of-water situation for Everett. Admittedly this plot sounds very thin, buddy-cops and fish-out-of-water, two clichés that have been done to death, but McDonagh is very stylistic contrasting an Irish country setting with a heavy cop movie tone and spaghetti western music in addition to writing it very well. And it imbues a lot of culture and character into the premise.
                Culturally, this film is seething with Irish. About as Irish as an English-language movie marketed to a western audience can get. And I say English-language but there is a fair bit of Irish Gaelic spoken. The film’s set in the Connemara so it would feel odd not to feature the local dialect, but it’s still surprising to hear this lesser known language (to me as someone who took Irish as a Linguistics course it means pausing and rewinding seven times to understand what’s being said without subtitles). There are plenty of great landscape shots of the Irish countryside which seems a world away. And despite taking place in an environment of crime and danger (and very unorthodox policing), the distinct culture and landscape make western Ireland very fascinating and appealing. Maybe aided by the fact most of the characters look down on city folk from Dublin.
                The Guard also has plenty of character. While it’s prone to “American” cop movie tropes, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which is what you’d want in a comedy, but it brings its own cultural influence to the film with behaviours and conversations that would never happen in a like film the other side of the Atlantic. Characters also have plenty of character which to me elevates the film out of being mere comedy. While seemingly sold as a buddy film, it’s clearly more about Boyle who’s a rude, awkward but effective and sympathetic protagonist and while not particularly old, has a weariness that suggests he’s nearing the end of his career. His only meaningful relationship is with his ailing mother (Fionnula Flanagan), his carelessness with drugs and job responsibilities, his liaisons with regular prostitutes, are suggestive of a man who for the most part has given up. Which makes it all the more exciting when he goes after the drug peddlers. And they’re a pretty fun trio of villains: Clive Cornell (Mark Strong), Liam O’Leary (David Wilmot), and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (the always welcome Liam Cunningham) are an entertaining troupe of bickering assholes.  Each scene they have together whether it’s complaining about every great philosopher being English (or Welsh) or O’Leary making the distinction that he’s a sociopath not a psychopath is a lot of fun and seems almost reminiscent of Coen brothers characters. And while Everett’s largely there as a foil for Boyle and to present conflict as to how Boyle conducts himself and his job (and to correct him on all his racism), Don Cheadle does well with the part and being such an obvious outsider is a good audience surrogate for those of us not living in Ireland. There are also a number of minor characters who leave an impression even if it’s brief including a guard assisting kid, a witty crime-scene photographer, and a very insensitive chief.
                The Guard is a small but grand movie that should certainly be seen more. It’s an Irish cultural gem that gives us some fun characters, an enjoyable style, great writing and acting, and an accessible look at the culture and character of Ireland something that perhaps should be done on St. Patrick’s Day as much as the drinking of whisky and singing of songs that sound Irish but were probably written in the United States. John Michael McDonagh more recently made another film called Calvary that I’d really like to see about a priest played by Gleeson who is the target of murder by an anonymous man who was abused by another priest as a child. It also stars Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, and Chris O’Dowd. The Guard proves that he like his brother is a director worth watching out for and I definitely urge you to seek it out.

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