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Gleeson doesn't let Guard down

The Guard

Cert 15A

WITH a slew of critical accolades to his name, it's to be expected that In Bruges director Martin McDonagh would be the better known of the McDonagh brothers. It remains to be seen whether John Michael McDonagh's body of work will match his younger brother's in terms of being a byword for consistent excellence, but on the evidence of this edgy, effervescent directorial debut, it's only a matter of time. The Celtic Coen brothers? Here's hoping.

It's no exaggeration to say that Brendan Gleeson touches comic greatness with his depiction of the delightfully deranged Connemara-based copper Sergeant Gerry Boyle. With a penchant for drugs and hookers, and a negative but informed opinion on Russian novels, this monument to mordant wit couldn't be more underwhelmed when FBI agent Wendell Everett, played by an excellent Don Cheadle, arrives on his patch hoping to investigate an international cocaine smuggling ring (made up of characters played by Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and David Wilmot).

This group of ruthless hombres intends landing a drugs shipment in Spiddal and the only obstacle to their master plan is the incorruptible Boyle and the FBI blow-in. Unfortunately, the temperature between these two is a tad on the tepid side. Disconcerted by Boyle's blunt manner and idiosyncratic ways, Everett can't decide whether his new partner is seriously dumb or smart. Comparable confusion can't be realistically entertained about the status of this comedy-thriller. Let's just say it's seriously smart.

A definite cult classic waiting to happen.


Now showing

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Cert 12A

AS the multimedia hype attached to blockbuster movies becomes bigger than any movie can ever live up to, so has the number of media available to the backlash. The word on this latest Transformers installment is that it's really bad. But there's bad as in compared to The Godfather, or bad as in compared with the other Transformers films.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), now back in normal life, can't get a job. It's not all bad -- Megan Fox may have left but he's shacked up with Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), whose only drawback is that she works for a rich lech Dylan (Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey), but it's thanks to a good word from Dylan that Sam gets a job with Bruce (John Malkovich), where Jerry (Ken Jeong) appears to warn him that the Decepticons are targeting humans.

The authorities don't want to know, having already discovered that the moon landings were not about small steps or giant leaps, but to investigate an alien craft. Optimus Prime goes moon-ward and there finds former Transformer leader Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) in sleep mode. They bring him back to Earth and to life, but is he grateful? No, cue wholesale destruction and death, all packaged nicely with some one-liners and Carly running around rubble in treggings, stilettos and a white jacket.

So, yes, in comparison to The Godfather, this is an abomination. In comparison to its predecessors, it's worse than the first, better than the last one. But be warned: it is 157 minutes long.


Now showing

The Tree of Life

Cert 12A

TERRENCE MALICK had been waiting to make this, only his fifth feature since 1973, for decades, and it shows in that it is a masterful piece of film-making -- beautiful, intelligent and affecting. But it also shows in that, at times, Malick was too close. Shot in 2008, the first cut was eight hours long; this final cut, at 139 minutes, won the Palme d'Or in Cannes, but has had mixed reactions.

Mrs O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) hears that her 19-year-old son is dead. She and her husband (Brad Pitt) grieve differently -- she in pure agony, he in guilt -- and both question God, directly. Through the effects, years later, on eldest son Jack (Sean Penn) and existential musings about creation, the story goes back to the O'Briens in Waco, Texas, in the Fifties, a time full of contradictions, where children frolic in clouds of DDT, and in the O'Briens the mother is almost a saint and the father sometimes almost a devil. Mr O'Brien, professionally frustrated twice over, parents his three sons with an attitude torn between his head and his heart -- and Pitt does it beautifully, even with that Brando hamster underbite thing he's grown fond of.

I studied French, which devoured my entire existentialism tolerance quotient, but other viewers will enjoy, if such be the word, Malick's penchant for these whispered voice-over musings. Oh, how the whispering grates. Nature in its full Technicolor opera-accompanied glory, a short walk with dinosaurs (entirely over my head) and a whole lot of shots of trees are exquisite, but left me cold. Combined with how some scenes and moments are held too long, there is an overall feeling of longueur.

However, mostly viewed through the eyes of Young Jack (Hunter McCracken) on father-son dynamics, actually all parenting/childing dynamics, The Tree of Life is remarkably broad, astute and affecting. Seriously good. It's a cinema fan's film, not really one for a distracting night out.


Now in selected cinemas

The Princess of Montpensier

at the IFI

VIEWED from the current era, when the forces of stultifying secularism rule the waves -- well, the airwaves at any rate -- Bertrand Tavernier's historical epic delivers a refreshing snapshot from an age when the answers to the big questions weren't so seemingly cut and dried. Starring the stunning Melanie Thierry and Lambert Wilson, this sumptuous period piece is set against the savage religious wars that tore France apart during the 16th Century.

Thierry takes the title role of a reluctant bride obliged to enter an arranged marriage intended to augment her grasping father's property portfolio. Marriage to the Prince of Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) brings the expected trappings of wealth and status, but this arrangement is complicated by the fact the dashing Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel) remains the object of her affections.

This steamy love triangle shows signs of taking on the dimensions of a rectangle, courtesy of the contribution made by the soulful Comte de Chabannes (Wilson). A road-to-Damascus-type experience on the battlefield has prompted this ageing warrior to hang up his sword, but when he gets the gig as guardian and tutor to the princess, he too falls under her spell.

A brilliantly realised backdrop, in which the notably CGI-free battle scenes are a stand-out, combines with an involving script to deliver a spectacle that will be appreciated by fans of high-quality movie-making. Having caught the eye in the recent Of Gods and Men, Wilson turns in another charismatic performance, while Thierry is also impressive and fulfils all the criteria required of a bona fide man-magnet.


Now Showing at the IFI

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