Sidewinder’s View: The Guardian (1984) [WITH SPOILERS]

From 1984, this morning’s movie, an HBO production promoted pretty heavily during its cable premiere in October of that year. Martin Sheen and his fellow tenants in a NYC (*) apartment building hire ex-military man Louis Gossett, Jr. to provide security for the building after a robbery-murder occurs there.

Ever the suspicious bleeding heart liberal, Sheen quickly decides Gossett’s effectiveness with security has to mean he’s up to no good, possibly setting the crimes up himself or engaging in ‘bloodthirsty’ vigilantism. The rest of the tenants, feeling safe and secure, think Sheen’s nuts for wanting to fire Gossett…whom Sheen angrily describes as ‘unbalanced’…but Sheen’s really upset with Gossett for trying to teach Sheen’s curious teenage son about guns.

SPOILER AHEAD

The Guardian final smaller

Sheen’s character, after making a really foolish, hot-headed decision to pay Gossett a house call after dark in a really horrible, desolate NYC neighborhood, gets surrounded by pipe-wielding thugs, mugged and nearly beaten to death…but not before the thugs cause him to break down and cry, curled up at their feet in a sobbing, pleading, helpless mess, humiliating him.

Before the first pipe can get brought down on Sheen’s mushy liberal head, Gossett shows up and saves him, via tough talk and brutal violence, scaring off the rest of the gang members (…all of whom, judging by the 6’2″ Gossett, appear to be no taller than 5’8″. Had Fred Williamson played the Gossett role, I’m sure he would have insisted that all the thugs cast be at least as tall as he was, if only to make the fight scene more suspenseful).

How realistic would that final showdown scene be in NYC, circa 1984? I’m not so sure. Let’s just say that I have my doubts. But the end result of the scene is that, in spite of Sheen’s ill thoughts about Gossett, he did stand up to the thugs and save the bleeding heart liberal’s life when he was unable to do it for himself (I enjoyed the line Sheen mutters as Gossett squares off against the pipe-wielding thugs, “Get ’em, John”).

The movie concludes a short time later, as we see that the humbled Sheen and the always stoic Gossett have arrived at a certain understanding with one another. His previously confident demeanor gone, Sheen’s visibly a changed man. And that’s the end of the story.

In other words, this is a story about a bleeding heart liberal who gets mugged by reality.

Literally.

I honestly believe that this is one of those ’80s movies that could not get made today, particularly at HBO, certainly not without a drastic script revision and an ending that satisfied a liberal confirmation bias about those bloodthirsty law-and-order types.

As it is, the film never provides answers to Sheen’s questions and doubts about Gossett, which, ultimately, prove to be irrelevant to Sheen’s feelings about the character, anyway. As tame as other aspects of the movie seem, that was a pretty daring decision on the part of the filmmakers. 

The movie’s fairly low key in terms of action and melodrama, but there are some quietly unsettling scenes of suspense. There’s a rape scene early on, involving a woman being assaulted in front of her five-year-old son, that was both disturbing and infuriating; disturbing for the fact that the presence of the little kid had no effect on the rapist’s behavior, infuriating for the fact that nobody catches up to the rapist later in the story. In that regard, The Guardian‘s more Death Wish than it is Death Wish II, less wish-fulfillment based and more rooted in everyday reality, frustrating as that may be.

There were at least a couple of scenes involving crime victims attempting to appease their attackers by surrendering all their cash and valuables, only to be met with the horrifying realization that their attackers were more interested in doing them physical harm.

Its flat air of ’80s TV-movie ambience aside, I found The Guardian rather satisfying. I’d seen this once before, maybe thirty years ago as a VHS rental, but I’d forgotten much of it. It’s been uploaded to You Tube fairly recently, which is where I was able to catch it this time.

I’ve placed the trailer in the SPOILER section because it gives away nearly every major plot point.

* = Actually the movie was shot in Canada, which helps explain the presence of several familiar Canadian character actors in the cast, such as Harvey Atkin and Kate Lynch from Meatballs and Maury Chaykin from Death Hunt and Curtains.

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