The Guarantee review: like watching men push at a door marked pull for 80 minutes

Ian Power’s bailout drama captures the yahoo patriarchy of bankers but is ultimately let down by a lack of subtlety

Money talks: Morgan Jones as Seán FitzPatrick in The Guarantee

Film Title: The Guarantee

Director: Ian Power

Starring: David Murray, Orla Fitzgerald, Peter Coonan, Morgan C Jones

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 80 min

Fri, Oct 31, 2014, 10:11


On the night of September 29th, 2008, the Irish government opted to guarantee virtually the entire domestic banking system, a decision that would impose extremely harsh fiscal measures on all citizens of the State and their children, and their children’s children.

If you’re unfamiliar with those events, The Guarantee won’t help much. This new dramatisation of a fateful evening at Government Buildings, based on a play by Colin Murphy, ought to resemble a Peter Morgan (The Pact, The Queen) film. Or Twelve Angry Men. Or a Hibernian Margin Call (which saw a fictionalised Wall Street investment bank realise, over one thrilling evening, that it is flatter than flat broke).

Sadly, The Guarantee does little or nothing to convince us that it belongs in a cinema. Throughout, the film struggles against a mountain of material and the kind of production budget one might expect from a country that opted to vouch for crooked bankers. Cast members unwisely and confusingly double-job.

The Brechtian notion of casting Peter Coonan as Anglo Irish Bank absconder David Drumm and as an equally shadowy Central Banker might have worked on stage, but on film it’s a head-wreck. There are so many endless plugs for co-producer TV3, one half-expects the legend “I only watch it for the articles” to flash across the screen.

Elsewhere, the grammar leans on devices that were abandoned when Shirley Temple was still chasing blue birds. Financial terms swirl pointlessly across the screen; they don’t explain anything or add anything. They are merely zipless signifiers. A child clutching a teddy bear while staring plaintively at Brian Cowen during a political press conference provides one of the year’s unintentional comedy highlights.

And did we really need a GAA player to personify Ireland?

That lack of subtlety extends to the characters. Brian Lenihan (David Murray, impressive in the film’s best-written part) gets a noble write-up: Brian Cowen (Lydon) gets the opposite. There’s an uncomfortable classism underlying these depictions: the former knows what a hospital pass is, the latter opens handball alleys.

The inclusion of Orla Fitzgerald’s token female character is a mistake. What makes The Guarantee worthwhile, for all its flaws, is its account of a yahoo patriarchy, men who eat and banter about sports when they ought to be bloody working. They exist in a bubble of backslapping suits. Nobody is seen to be capable of lateral thinking. They keep running back to the same capitalist forces that advised them toward economic incontinence in the first place.

Cowen shouts that he’s not in the business of nationalising banks. Why not? The effect is like watching men push at a door marked pull for 80 minutes. This is a brave film from director Ian Power, one that raises important issues. We just wish it was a little better.