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My Best of 2011: The Guard & Loving Irish Film…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

The Guard is number eleven. Check out my original review here.

I imagine anybody who lives a country about the same size of Ireland has that same essential insecurity about their national cinema. Unless you live in a major market, it seems that home-produced films are generally relegated to the less mainstream cinemas and subject to less promotion or publicity, unless they happen to star one (or more) of your home-grown talents who happens to have been successful overseas. And, as you discuss or review your own cinema, you start to question yourself: are you harder or softer on a particular film because it came from your country? or should you be harder or softer on those films? Do you hold the films produced by your own country to a higher or a lower standard than those produced in major markets? When I recommend a film produced in Ireland, I catch myself, asking “if this weren’t produced here, would it be notable?”

I think there are far more films that are notable than most might imagine, and I also think The Guard is almost definitely one of them. It’s a distinctly Irish film, but one that doesn’t exclude the outsiders looking in.

It seems to be suggested that critics and pundits are somehow unfairly harsh on Irish film. I’ll concede that typically recommending an “Irish film” can draw a fair amount of skepticism from family and friends. To be entirely honest, trying to convince me to see a film purely because it is Irish tends to make me a little suspicious. Try to convince me it’s a good film that happens to be Irish, rather than a film that is worthy of attention simply because my tax money into it. Give me a movie that works on its own merits, and would be a solid piece of cinema anywhere, rather than appealing to my patriotic nature. If “it’s Irish” is the only aspect of a production to recommend it, I am immediately wary.

That might sound cynical or jaded, but I don’t think it is. I can point to any number of Irish films that deserve to be seen on their own merits, and can measure up to anything else in the multiplex, without being applied with a “but it’s your national cinema” handicap. The Crying Game is a great movie, even beyond the aspects for which it is best known. interMission is an entertaining crime thriller with a fantastic cast. Hell, I’ll cheat and consider In Bruges to be an Irish film, seen as the talent involved both in front of and behind the camera.

And I feel perfectly comfortable adding The Guard to that line-up. I think the appeal of The Guard is the way that manages to perfectly sum up the Irish character, and the inherent contradicts therein. Ireland is a surreal country, one that remains incredibly isolated and yet part of the global village at the same time. We’re a nation of small towns and green fields, but each of those small towns has a McDonalds or a Starbucks. As much as we might be distinctively Irish, we’ve absorbed an incredible amount of Americana.

And so Gerry Boyle is perhaps the quintessential Irishman. He’s a big fish in a small pond, a man who wakes up in the morning staring at his Daniel O’Donnell poster and yet uses American terminology like “APB.” He’s a man who understands how his community operates, who is willing to cover up the involvement of drugs in a road accident (what would his mammy think?) and deal with the IRA, and yet feels strangely comfortable handling an AK-47. It’s that strange blend of the local and the international that the movie so perfectly encapsulates in Boyle.

He’s an assortment of all the bumbling small-minded clichés that one associates with rural Ireland, but played with that very canny Irish wit. He’s the perfect example of that essential Irish dichotomy. It’s the wily knowing smile, coupled with the “ah, sure it’s grand” mentality that leads many to underestimate him. It’s hard to tell when Gleeson’s Boyle is being serious, or when he’s playing into the expectations of those around him. There’s a sense that, beneath his playful and provocative exterior, the man is far smarter than those who would mock him. Conversations with his mother reveal him to be well-read, and the movie suggests that Boyle is more aware of what is going on than anybody else in the movie.

It’s a wonderful performance from Gleeson, an unsung hero of Irish cinema, that nails the character and makes the film work so well. Of course, he’s helped by one of the smartest and funniest scripts of the year, and a superb ensemble cast, but it’s Gleeson who does the heavy lifting, and it’s Gleeson who must convince us that there’s a great deal of depth to the police man. It’s a very deserving performance, one of the best lead performances of the year, and I’m glad to see the Golden Globes honour it with a nomination.

The Guard isn’t just a great Irish film. It’s a great film, full stop.

I’m counting down my top twelve films of 2011, one a day. Here’s the list so far:

12.) Rango

11.) The Guard

10.) Super 8

09.) The Adjustment Bureau

08.) True Grit

07.) Rise of the Planet of the Apes

06.) Black Swan

05.) Thor

04.) Midnight in Paris

03.) The Artist

02.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

01.) Drive

You might also like our other end/start-of-year pieces:

2 Responses

  1. 100% with you on this. Like you say, Gleeson absolutely makes this – but Cheadle was great to bounce off. Definitely my favourite Irish film in a long, long time! Not sure how well it would export though – very ‘Irish’ with the dialect, black humour, characters and setting. Fav scene is Don knocking ’round the doors and nobody speaking to him.

    Also, get heaps of ‘The Guard Final Scene’ searches coming to my site… seems like it’s more ambiguous than I thought.

  2. I really loved this movie and still have to decide if it will be in my 2011 top 10. It is on the shortlist though! This was a very funny movie….

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