Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Guard

Genre: Cop-Drama
Premise: An unorthodox Irish policeman with a confrontational personality is teamed up with an uptight FBI agent to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring.
About: The Guard was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. This is his first directing effort. McDonagh’s one other credit is for writing 2003’s “Ned Kelly.” The Guard stars Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson and was purchased at Sundance this year by Sony Pictures Classics. John Michael is the brother of Martin McDonagh, whose film “In Bruges” became an instant cult classic. The two started their career together, with John writing and Martin directing a short film called “Six Shooter” that starred none other than…Brendan Gleeson.
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Details: 109 pages – shooting draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Since I put the word out that I was reviewing this script, I’ve been surprised at the nearly one dozen e-mails I’ve received celebrating it. The consensus seems to be that this is really good. Either this isn’t my choice of paint or I'm at the wrong house because while The Guard certainly has its moments, I felt that the story gets lost in too many places and, when it’s all said and done, has too bland of a plot.

Location: The west coast of Ireland.

Where we meet: Gerry Boyle

You wouldn’t call Boyle a corrupt cop. But if he spots a bag of coke in the pocket of a murdered civilian, he’ll stuff it in his own pocket and save it for a rainy day. That pretty much sums up Boyle. He has no problem mixing business with pleasure. Boyle is the heart and soul of The Guard, the blood pumping through its veins. When he’s doing his thing (which consists mainly of giving his unfiltered opinion of you) we’re dancing at the most exclusive party. When he’s not, the script is deader than a body once rigor mortis sets in.

Since Boyle’s way of doing his job is so, um, “specific,” he’s none too pleased to be set up with a new partner, city boy Aiden McBride. McBride’s greener than an Irish postcard and his dogged idealism bugs the hell out of Boyle. It sure is a buzzkill when your partner won’t let you get trashed before the day’s rounds begin.

But the partnership doesn’t last long. After looking into a possible serial killer murder, poor McBride is gunned down by some nasty Irish criminals during a routine traffic stop. Boyle’s later visited by McBride’s wife, who’s concerned that he never came home, and now instead of just having to worry about this murder, he’s got to worry about finding his annoying partner (who he doesn’t know is dead).

During this time, a drug task force blows into town led by FBI agent Wendell Everett, an African American. Apparently there’s a boat with half a billion dollars worth of cocaine on it that’s going to land somewhere along the coast of Ireland in the next few days. They need all local cops to keep a look out

This is pretty much the breaking point for Boyle. For a man who’d prefer to build a bed under his desk, a la George Costanza in Seinfeld, and sleep all day, this is turning out to be quite the heavy workload.

Eventually, Boyle and McBride’s wife start to hang out and he finds out that McBride was gay and the marriage was for a green card, which leaves the door open for a little romantic soiree. But McBride is devoid of emotion and uninterested in human contact, preferring to fuck hookers a la Charlie Sheen over, you know, opening up about his feelings n stuff.

It only gets more frustrating when Boyle’s forced to deal with Everett and his obsession with this coke boat. He takes it out on Everett with his racially charged observations, assuming that since Everett is black he grew up in the hood and probably danced with a gang or four.

But it turns out Everett grew up privileged, receiving an Ivy-League education and making his way up the ranks cause he’s damn good at his job. The two butt heads in their approach (Everett’s by the book, Boyle blows the book up) but need to work together to take down these drug dealers, a job that gets harder by the day considering how much corruption dominates the small Irish town.

The Guard, for me, didn’t do enough differently with the genre, had too un-compelling of a central case, and didn’t maximize the conflict between its leads enough. Combined with a host of other questionable choices, the script didn’t click for me.

It starts with McBride, Boyle’s initial partner. I have no idea why this character is in the script. He shows up for five minutes, dies, and then we’re supposed to be interested in the search for him even though a) we never knew him, b) he was a boring character c) our main character has no interest in finding out what happened to him, and d) it has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot.

The truth is, we didn’t need this character. He has nothing to do with the story. The first character to show up should’ve been Everett and we should’ve dived right into the drug-plot. We already had another death (the supposed serial killer murder) to look into in order to keep the plot complex. McBride, then, only serves to take up precious screenplay real estate.

I’m assuming his death was a device to introduce his wife into Boyle’s life, so we have a romantic interest. Not only were there other options for doing this, but the wife doesn’t really affect Boyle’s life anyway. Their interactions are short and devoid of conflict, so to go through all that trouble just to get this girl in the story who’s barely involved anyway and has little to offer in Boyle’s character transformation…I just didn’t see the point of it.

Next, I didn’t like the wishy-washy relationship with Everett. There’s nothing really forcing these two to interact with one another. They’re part of two different factions investigating two different things. This forces the script to have to come up with situations where the two would talk, but they never pop off the page because we know they’ll be free and clear of each other within ten minutes. These movies tend to work best when the people involved are forced to work together so in my opinion, the solution to this is simple. Drop McBride and have Everett come in and be Boyle's partner from the get-go. It’s so obvious it’s painful.

The thing that really works for The Guard is the character of Boyle. He’s got two major things going for him as a fictional character. First, he says and does what’s on his mind. He has no filter. Those characters are always fun to watch. Also, he’s borderline corrupt. He abuses his power, and the irony of someone who’s supposed to be protecting us, taking advantage of us, is a compelling one and a dynamic we’re inherently drawn to (check out The Shield as an example).

My problem with these kinds of characters is that they work for awhile because they’re fun to watch, but at a certain point, they’re going to be called on to “save the day” and unless you’ve built a carefully nuanced transformation into the character over the course of the story, then them all of a sudden wanting to “do the right thing,” will feel artificial, and that’s exactly what happens here.

(Spoilers) Boyle finds out where the boat is landing and decides to go down by himself, a la Die Hard Bruce Willis, and single-handedly take out the entire group of bad guys.

Why? I don’t know.

He hasn’t given a shit for 100 pages. Why does he all of a sudden give a shit now? Yeah they killed his partner but he didn’t even know his partner. He has no reason to do this other than that it’s the climax of the movie and you need your hero to be involved in the climax somehow.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the script. I thought Boyle was a good character and that was about it. Motivations needed to be stronger. Needless plot points needed to be stripped. Relationships needed to be solidified. It’ll be interesting to see what Gleeson does with this character. No doubt he’ll have some fun and make this film watchable, but I can’t recommend the screenplay.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Use action to create a history between two people, not conversation. One of the problems I had with The Guard was that all of Boyle’s and Everett’s scenes together were them sitting around talking about their pasts. It was boring. Therefore, when they’re forced to team up in the end, you didn’t have any sense of history between the two. It was like I barely knew who these two were in relation to each other. So instead of trying to create history via dialogue, put your characters in situations that require action. Look at Heat. Remember the famous bank robbery scene where they’re out in the middle of downtown L.A. firing AK-47s at police officers? You really got the sense that those guys WENT THROUGH SOMETHING TOGETHER, so that later on, you felt the history between them. I didn’t see that here so the final pairing between Boyle and Everett lacked depth. It was almost like they were meeting for the first time. In short, SHOW don’t TELL. The Guard could’ve benefited from this.