HomeVideodrome: 'The Guard' Lives in the Shadow of 'In Bruges'

Due to more holiday shenanigans, the HomeVideodrome podcast will return next week. For real this time!

It’s impossible to watch “The Guard” and not think of the magnificent black comedy “In Bruges,” due to the pedigree of talent behind it. Produced by Martin McDonagh (the man behind “In Bruges”), “The Guard” finds his brother, John Michael McDonagh, making his debut as a writer/director. Drawing on influences as diverse as Sam Peckinpah and Nicolas Roeg, “In Bruges” struck a perfect balance of hilariously dark humor, intense drama and startling violence, so immediately trotting it out as a point of comparison for “The Guardseems unfair. But given how similar the stories are, it’s unfortunately inevitable.

Brendan Gleeson, the co-star of “In Bruges,” plays a mouthy Irish cop named Boyle, whose favorite extracurricular activities including wanton whoring and dropping acid. While investigating a nasty rash of killings in Ireland’s Connemara Gaeltacht, he’s paired up with Everett, a culture-shocked, by-the-book FBI agent played by Don Cheadle.

Together, they find the murders to be related to a drug-running operation. This standard odd-couple buddy-cop premise seems formulaic on the surface, but it practically plays as a companion piece to “In Bruges,” given the dynamic between Gleeson and Cheadle. It’s like “In Bruges” on the right side of the law.

What’s disappointing is that John Michael McDonagh’s film isn’t as well realized as his brother’s. Where “In Bruges” felt natural and seamless, “The Guard” feels calculated and overcooked in its humor and character dynamics. Half of the scenes in the film devolve into sarcasm-soaked, wisecracker quip-fests about semantics, going out of its way to highlight Everett’s culture shock, as well as Boyle’s disdain for outside meddling.

“In Bruges” was indeed filled with clever dialogue, but it never felt as though Martin McDonagh was showing us just how clever he he could be. With “The Guard,” it feels as though John Michael is showing off, rather than exercising any form of restraint, and it sabotages the movie’s pace, as well as any depth the characters could have. His strings as a writer are readily apparent, and it does the film no favors.

“The Guard” naturally has the deck stacked against it, standing in the shadow of a film as great as “In Bruges,” but the criticisms applied here would be just as valid if it were completely unrelated to Martin’s brilliant film. That’s not to say that John Michael doesn’t show great promise; it may sound as though I thoroughly dislike “The Guard,” but certain elements of it were enjoyable. Like “In Bruges,” it has a thematic hint of Peckinpah that is mostly absent from today’s Hollywood movies, and there are plenty of scenes and exchanges that are memorable.

I couldn’t help but think of “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid” during Boyle’s escapade with prostitutes, and Cheadle turns in a an appropriately alienated performance when the movie’s dialogue isn’t going out of its way to let us know what a fish out of water he truly is. There is no doubt that “The Guard” is superior to a massive chunk of Hollywood’s sour output in 2011, but that also kinda just highlights what a lousy year 2011 was for movies.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Other Noteworthy Releases

Contagion: I missed Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic”-meets-“Outbreak” opus in theaters, but it was met with a fairly positive response. Soderbergh is a hit-or-miss filmmaker (mostly miss), but this one looks compelling.

Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo, Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

I Am: Once upon a time, Tom Shadyac made big-budget comedies like “Bruce Almighty” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Then, he hit his head, reassessed his life, and rejected his lavish Hollywood lifestyle in favor of a more altruistic existence. His newfound quest to make the world a better place is the subject of this documentary. Tom Shadyac’s father, the late Richard Shadyac, helped co-found St. Jude Children’s Hospital where I live in Memphis, Tennessee. Big Hollywood’s Christian Toto interviewed Tom Shadyac for The Washington Times when the film was released theatrically last year.

Available on DVD

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: As much as I adore the horror genre, I can’t muster the energy to even care about this remake. This is likely due to my apathy towards the recent work of its producer, Guillermo Del Toro, whose name is all over it.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Shark Night: Another ho-hum horror remake. Why is a movie called “Shark Night” rated a mere PG-13? Christian Toto just reviewed this release for Big Hollywood.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

I Don’t Know How She Does It: …and I never will.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Marley & Me – The Puppy Years: BBC Radio 5 film critic Mark Kermode had the best review for “Marley & Me” out of anybody. “Just buy a dog instead.” The same no doubt applies to the direct-t0-video thing.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant.

Serendipity: This rom-com starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale comes to Blu-ray.

Available on Blu-ray