Film Review: Bodyguards: Secret Lives from the Watchtower

Despite its juvenile, portentous title, and its framing sometimes tackily smacking of the dreaded “TMZ,” this study of the big boys who protect the big stars offers surprising insight.
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They stand there, these sleek man-mountains in their dark suits, keeping watch at nightclub entrances, or flanking fan-inciting celebrities. Intimidating figures of instant authority, you fully realize the need for their existence, but rarely ever give them much deep thought.

Not so for Jaren Hayman, who has fashioned a full-scale doc devoted to uncovering the lives of these often-undercover guys who serve and protect the likes of the late Nelson Mandela, Justin Bieber, Whitey Bulger, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne, to name but a few. Marked by some cornball, overly macho narration that is its chief, recurring flaw, Bodyguards: Secret Lives from the Watchtower is a surprisingly in-depth view not only of these forbidding gatekeepers, who tirelessly work 24/7 with very little time off, but of many of their clients, as well as the nature of celebrity, so out of control in terms of fan worship, now more than ever.

Bieber is prominently featured, covered in hideous tattoos or wearing a carefully tattered t-shirt as, accompanied by a skipping, weird little girl, he makes his progress to a fan meet-and-greet. Such events are always challenging to his looming handlers, who observe that fanatical young girls can almost have the strength of aggressive grown men in attacking the nubile object of their prey. (Bieber’s traditional prayer circle before a concert offers its own twisted amusement, invoking God and sweat, simultaneously.)

Beyond glitzy tabloid stars, the film’s true depth lies in stories like that of Rory Steyn, once a member of South Africa’s Apartheid Police, who, after he was assigned to Mandela, rethought his entire formerly racist life and attitude. The guys involved with Mob informant Whitey Bulger and the infamous, headline-making Whitewater outfit offer added depth, borne of the most hard-won experience. Additionally, we see, terrifyingly up-close, the horrendous Afghan war experience of one of them, lost finger and all.

Former London police officer Jacquie Davis even has her own all-female safety detail, but more time is spent at an undisclosed Florida location where bodyguards undergo strict boot camp-like training, in all sorts of imagined situations including hostage-taking.

Sure, a bodyguard’s life offers access to beyond-luxurious lives, not to mention high pay, horny honeys and all manner of variegated perks. But, as interviewee Anton Kalaydjian breaks it down with a melancholy that reads utterly real, it’s also a life of sacrifice—namely, one’s own, with personal relationships being nigh impossible, given all that travel and crazy scheduling. We see him capturing a rare moment playing with his kids, who evidently see him rarely, and become aware that although these men are always around for important holidays, those are not their holidays. Kalaydjian, who has weathered employment under T-Pain, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and Timbaland, has these words for anyone considering a “glamorous” career being a bodyguard: “Don’t!”

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