John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard has all the reliable hallmarks of a crime thriller – police corruption, drug trafficking, blackmail, and murder – but at its heart, it’s a wickedly funny buddy cop movie. What makes it even funnier is that it’s also in part a fish out of water story; two policemen from different worlds, literal and figurative, must join forces if they’re to successfully take on a gang of international drug smugglers. One is an eccentric police officer from a small village in Ireland. This would be Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson). He doesn’t play by the rules, if I may be allowed a descriptive cliché. He has a questionable sense of humor, and his personality can only be described as confrontational. You will often see him at the pub, either drinking or playing a violent shoot-‘em-up arcade game. He has a taste for young prostitutes, two of whom are more than happy to do business with him.
The other is FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), sent from America to assist in the drug trafficking investigation. A very professional man with no sense of humor, he does not take kindly to Boyle, who not only shows no interest in the case but also seems to enjoy pushing his buttons. He will, for example, make several highly ignorant and stereotypical statements about Everett’s race and background; although it’s clear that he’s trying to get a rise out of Everett, a small part of me wondered if he truly meant what he said. In truth, Everett had a privileged American upbringing that included the highest levels of formal education. When Boyle initially proves uncooperative, Everett takes it upon himself to crack the case, which will involve approaching the locals. This proves far easier said than done. Watch what happens when he knocks on the door of a family that speaks Gaelic.
The more Boyle tries to stay out of the case, the more he can’t seem to escape it. It begins with the discovery of a man whose brains had been blown all over the wall. Not long after, his enthusiastic young deputy (Rory Keenan), himself a target for mockery, goes missing; this leads to the introduction of the deputy’s foreign wife (Katarina Cas), who makes it clear that their marriage was not what it seemed. Following this, Boyle is nearly blackmailed by one of his favorite hookers, who urges him to forget about the case. Strange, that she should come to him with her face battered and bruised. At a certain point, it becomes obvious that the drug traffickers are successfully buying off the entire local police force. Although world weary, Boyle soon realizes that, if he’s to put an end to this, he must swallow his pride and put his trust in Everett, even if he is by-the-book.
There are a few amusing scenes with the traffickers, who were intentionally written to have conflicting personalities. Indeed, it’s never as much fun when the bad guys have a hive mentality. The casting of Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, and David Wilmot, which their eclectic physical appearances, only enhances the overall effect, especially during their introductory scene in which they have a philosophical debate – one that, naturally, has little if anything to do with drug trafficking. They’re comedy relief and not present in every scene, and yet they’re about as richly developed as the rest of the characters, which is to say they never once become boring. McDonagh reportedly had them in mind when writing the screenplay, and while that is technically nepotism, their performances speak for themselves – they slipped into their respective roles with astonishing ease.
An interesting subplot involves Boyle’s terminally ill mother, Eileen (Fionnula Flanagan). She seems resigned to her fate, although a few select moments suggest she arrived there at a glacial pace. Mother and son are not sentimental fools – I would argue that Boyle’s world view was in large part influenced by her – but love is clearly present in every scene they’re in. I initially had trouble determining how this particular plotline related to the main story. Now it seems clear: It’s not so much that Eileen is directly involved in the case, but that she’s a part of the limited world Boyle is so dismissive of. While not a well-travelled man, he has seen enough to know that there really isn’t much meaning in anything.
Although not an action picture, the film winds itself tighter as it approaches the final scenes, which will involve a standoff, a shootout, and a burning boat in that order. I appreciated the way they were structured, in large part because they didn’t rely on superfluous stunt work or showy special effects. The final moments of The Guard are perhaps a bit too ambiguous, although given the nature of the plot, there was probably no other way it could have gone. In any event, what I most responded to was the cleverness and audacity of the screenplay, the spot-on casting, and the chemistry between the performers, specifically Gleeson and Cheadle. As warped as McDonagh’s style clearly is – which would explain the mysterious inclusion of a boy on a bicycle and a teen that takes pictures of crime scenes – let it not be said that he can’t keep an audience engaged.
*** out of **** Ireland is known for producing good films and good stars. One of the greatest finds in the latter category, over the years, has unquestionably been Brendan Gleeson; that great, big, lovable bloke who appeared in films ranging from "28 Days Later" to "The Green Zone". Now, he's back in his native country, working for a native filmmaker, in "The Guard"; the latest movie to make great use of Gleeson's broad range of acting talents. Here, he plays corrupt cop Sergeant … more
Michael John McDonagh has previously written the screenplay for Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger which I remember as a good movie. His brother Martin has won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges, which also starred Brendan Gleeson, and what I consider the best performance of Colin Farrell's career, and for the short feature Six Shooter, A Collection of 2005 Academy Award Nominated Short Films, also starring Brendan Gleeson, and at least two other characters you will see … more
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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