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Tenants Raise Price of Protection in 'Guardian'

July 21, 1994|JON NALICK

"The Guardian," which reflects on what price society pays when its members trade freedom and the rule-of-law for security, poses many questions but only hints at the answers.

It's the story of fearful New York apartment-dwellers who hire a security guard to keep them safe after a fellow tenant is killed by a thief.

Their new guardian is John Mack (Louis Gossett Jr.), a former military man whose methods are quick and effective but brutal.

Martin Sheen plays Charlie Hyatt, a tenant who at first supports hiring Mack but comes to believe that the guard may be as bad as the people he's supposed to protect tenants from.

After one couple's apartment is ransacked just days after its tenants laugh off Mack's warnings about improving security, Hyatt suspects the guard may have done it to teach them a lesson. After that and other suspicious incidents, Mack fatally shoots a heroin addict he caught stealing from an apartment and asserts it was self-defense. The tenants celebrate Mack's heroism, but Hyatt believes the shooting was murder.

"A man was killed. It's hardly a cause for a celebration," Hyatt shouts in disbelief. "A junkie's gotten his head blown off, and everyone's having a party!"

While some neighbors are skeptical of Hyatt's suspicions, they agree to scrutinize Mack's behavior. Others, however, don't seem to care what Mack does to keep them safe, so long as he keeps doing it.

Mack has a plausible explanation for every suspicion. And, because the audience doesn't see everything Mack does, viewers never know for sure whether he is a true hero, wrongfully suspected, or a vicious thug. The ambiguity makes the film unsettling but extremely interesting.

It's one of those movies that's entertaining while you watch but also gives you something to think about long after it ends. You wonder how strongly you really believe in principles of innocent until proven guilty and ends justifying the means, especially when you are the one in constant fear of being a victim.

"The Guardian" (1984), directed by David Greene, 102 minutes. Not rated.

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