Film Review: The Guarantee
“Based on a true story”. Well, there’s no mistaking that bit.
But what is it that The Guarantee, a cinematic reconstruction of the moments leading up to that fateful night in September 2008 when the Irish government decided to guarantee the entire domestic banking system, wants to be?
Is it a documentary? In parts.
It’s also an ambitious political thriller – a tightly-budgeted, home-grown drama that punches above its own weight.
Various news bulletins and political speeches from the TV3 vault (the station was involved in the film’s production) weave their way through director Ian Power’s truthful and educational offering, based on a stage play by Colin Murphy (the playwright takes up screenwriting duties here).
We might look back at The Guarantee as a missed opportunity.
Wrapped tightly in political and financial jargon, our story swings back and forth through government corridors and boardrooms, as the country goes from boom to bust in 80 minutes, and the big boys search for an anchor. There’s a storm coming! The bubble will burst! Bertie gets out of dodge!
Indeed, as trouble brews and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan warns Taoiseach Brian Cowen that he may have to shut down a few handball alleys (yep, The Guarantee has a sense of humour too), civil servant Kate Walsh (Orla Fitzgerald) stares worriedly at computer screens and white boards, telling us, the viewers, that after 11 years of overspending, the s**t is about to hit the fan.
“We’re f***ed,” says Peter Coonan’s David Drumm, when the penny finally drops and the Anglo Irish Bank Chief Executive realises that he and his cronies might have partied too hard.
Drumm tosses out dizzying figures and worst-case scenarios, as do Lenihan’s advisors.
In one scene, Anglo boss Sean FitzPatrick (Morgan C. Jones) sits over his bed in his undies, listening to Drumm weigh up the costs on the phone. He stares at a dead fly on the nightstand. Yep, The Guarantee hits hard. A little too hard, perhaps (best of luck keeping up with the dialogue, cinema-goers).
In an attempt to retain its theatrical roots, press conferences are held in the dark (or at night… it’s hard to tell). But where Power really drops the ball is in the casting of Peter Coonan as both Drumm and the unnamed, moustachioed ‘Central Banker’. One man, two roles…hmmm, they didn’t put that on the poster. The result is an unfortunate, near-comical misstep in a film that was already showing signs of crumbling under the weight of its subject matter.
Too many headlines, numbers and emails flashing across the screen. Too many terms and conditions. True, its occasional flashiness is what keeps it going, but there are times when The Guarantee resembles one long trailer, held together by an ominous score and those aforementioned news bulletins. Pity.
Gary Lydon turns in a solid performance as Cowen, and David Murray is rather excellent as Lenihan. Clearly, Power and Murphy are trying to pull an Aaron Sorkin, and their attempts are admirable. A tense, often impenetrable political feast, The Guarantee has its moments. But a true story, no matter how fascinating it proves to be, doesn’t always ensure a memorable picture.