Martin McDonagh is an Oscar winning and Tony nominated writer and director and the man behind the criminally under-appreciated black comedy ‘In Bruges.’ His brother, John Michael McDonagh, has wrote and directed ‘The Guard,’ which is his first directorial effort.
It seems unfair critique John’s movie through the lens of his brother, but once you’ve become familiar with Martin’s work and then seen ‘The Guard’ it’s almost impossible not to. The brothers share sensibilities in both humor and their desire to blend that humor (black as it is, I find it hilarious) with honest relationships and heartfelt storytelling. With any of the work by either brother (this movie being the only I’ve seen from John) you have to look past the superficial to see that heart, but it’s there. John does an admirable job of creating characters as complex and entertaining as his brother, but he lacks Martin’s deft hand behind the camera and his invisibility with the pen. Too frequently in ‘The Guard’ I could see John pulling the strings, trying to set up a punchline that can be seen from too far away. He couldn’t quite stay ahead of the audience the way his brother does so brilliantly and - seemingly - effortlessly.
At the end of the movie, the worst I can say is that John doesn’t quite live up to his the bar his brother has set before him. The best I can say is that he he made a smart decision in sticking with McDonagh-favorite Brendan Gleeson, who continues to be excellent in everything (really, the entire cast is spot-on) and has made quite a good debut film.