The Guard is a very entertaining movie. This needs to be said right up front because, on paper, the film presents a tired story, with an apathetic police officer, long in the force, begrudgindly getting roped into the investigation of a drug-smuggling ring that’s come to his small Irish town. Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) views himself as “the last of the independents” and, among other things, he’s mildly corrupt, massively vulgar and unabashidly racist. An Irish “garda,” Boyle lives alone and appears more interested in visiting his mother and drinking (whiskey and Guiness, naturally) than in doing actual, honest police work.
As the movie opens, Boyle is initially teamed with a new young partner who he treats with a fine blended malt of quiet scorn and couldn’t-care-less (it would take too much care to muster contempt). The two are investigating a murder, and the scene of their investigation establishes the mood of the film, a rote procedural thriller meets dry, British comedy. Shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), an FBI agent who’s come to town to investigate the aforementioned drug-smugggling ring that’s moved in. Unsurprisingly, the murder is related.
So Wendell winds up working with Boyle, a situation neither is particularly thrilled with. Wendell, in particular, sees Boyle as little more than a racist and stupid bore, and would take a little joy in repeatedly defying Boyle’s racist assumptions about him if they didn’t get him so fired up. Their investigation follows mostly predictable beats but, again, that’s not the point of the film.
Cheadle is (as always) excellent, and Fionnula Flanagan is similarly great in her few scenes as Boyle’s equally vulgar mother. But this is Gleeson’s film, and he’s excellent, from the moments of quiet reaction and reflection to the serious but bitingly undercuting comedic barbs. Writer and director John Michael McDonagh is the older brother of Martin McDonagh, the writer and director of In Brugges, which also starred Gleeson. Unsurprisingly, the two films share a similar tone, aesthetic and sense of humor. I’m loathe to further compare the two films, as The Guard comes out the the loser, lacking the depth and story of McDonagh the Junior’s film. But that’s not to take anything away from The Guard — the plot may not be anything new, but the dialogue is consistently sharp and amusing (as long as you don’t mind the accents and excessive vulgarities) and Cheadle and Gleeson are excellent. It’s simply an enjoyable 90 minutes, a fine directorial premiere for McDonagh the Senior.
The Guard screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Dramatic Competition. It opens in limited release today.