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The Guard (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 1

The Guard

The Guard

THE GUARD (2011)

Starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene, Katarina Cas, Pat Shortt, Darren Healy, Laurence Kinlan and Gary Lydon.

Screenplay by John Michael McDonagh.

Directed by John Michael McDonagh.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.   96 minutes.  Rated R.

Irish Garda (police officer) Sgt. Gerry Boyle is a lot of things to a lot of people.  He is loud, rude, obnoxious, bigoted, jaded, selfish, antagonistic, misogynistic, perhaps alcoholic…

As played by spectacular Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, he is also the funniest and most vital film character so far this year.

Of course those attributes are just surface level.  Watching Boyle over the length of The Guard makes you realize that at least part of it is an act to get people to underestimate him.  The character turns out to be an odd Gaelic mix of Archie Bunker and Lt. Columbo.

He is a contradiction and a contrarian.  He is sometimes corrupt and yet has a stubborn sense of right and wrong.  He is equally zealous about whores and Disneyland.  And he has impassioned conversations with criminals about the meaning of “Ode to Billie Joe.”

As you can see, screenwriter and first-time director John Michael McDonagh does not believe in creating clichéd characters.  In fact, the stubborn eccentricity and dark humor of the script takes what could be a pretty standard police drama and makes it a gonzo joy.

Gleeson is a terrific Irish character actor who is probably best known in the States for playing Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter movies.  However, a few years ago when Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (The Guard director’s younger brother) gave McDonagh the opportunity to carry a film with In Bruges, Gleeson showed he was more than up to the task.

The Guard strongly demonstrates that this is true.  On the surface, at least Boyle is a character is a polar opposite of his In Bruges character Ken, who was a thoughtful and sensitive hit man who is suddenly reconsidering everything he had previously believed.

We are introduced to Boyle as a cop on the side of a road when a bunch of drugged up miscreants crash their car nearby him.  He seems genuinely inconvenienced by dealing with the clean-up, but not so much that he doesn’t appropriate their drugs for himself.

Soon he is berating new recruits, making casually racist comments to a visiting American FBI agent (Don Cheadle) and slacking his way through his investigation.

However, if you assume that Boyle is just what you see on the surface, then you are falling into his trap.  He wants people to underestimate him.  The more you know Boyle, the more you realize you don’t know him at all.

Boyle starts revealing many unexpected layers – he is literate, a cinemafile, a gourmand, and surprisingly respects women in general more than men.  He also is a fine policeman – going at it from an eccentric angle but more determined that right prevail than anyone else in his squad.

The storyline itself is nothing all that special, but the off-the-wall script gives the updated Old West setting some wonderfully off-kilter reverb.  The Guard is not a plot-driven film, though, it is much more character driven.

Cheadle’s FBI guy is more of the straight man in the situation.  He has a wonderful slow burn and Cheadle – who is undoubtedly the best-known actor in the film – generously allows his co-star most of the film’s great moments.

The bad guys are also far different than one would expect, they are smart, sensitive and kind of bored by their life of crime.  They’d rather be discussing the correct pronunciation of Nietzsche than their own drug trade.

The Guard takes the cop buddy genre and turns it on its head.  It is smart, literate and funny and definitely worth searching out.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: July 29, 2011.


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