Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a small-town cop with a foul mouth, a subversive sense of humour, a dying mother, a fondness for prostitutes, and no interest whatever in the international cocaine-smuggling drop that has brought FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to his small Irish seaside town. His new young partner Aidan (Rory McBride) disappears, his favourite hooker attempts to blackmail him into turning a blind eye, and finally the drug-traffickers try to buy him off as they have every other member of the local police force. He realises that he needs to take matters into his own hands, and the only person he can trust is Everett.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you enjoyed Martin McDonagh's wonderful 2008 black comedy In Bruges in which Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play two hitmen in hiding, you will love this debut feature from the director's brother John Michael McDonagh. There must be something in the water in Ireland - or at least in the water that the McDonagh family drinks that promotes understatement and black comedy.
It's the cumulative dry humour with black overtones and appealing odd couple pairing of Gleeson and Don Cheadle that make this offbeat Irish comedy highly appealing. There's a subtlety about the characterisations and how the fish-out-of-water element is seamlessly integrated into what is essentially a story about an unconventional Irish policeman who plays everything by his own rules.
I can't tell if you're exceptionally dumb or exceptionally smart, Cheadle's visiting US FBI agent Wendell Everett tells Gleeson's Sergeant Gerry Boyle not long after they meet when Everett comes to the sleepy Irish County of Connermara investigating a cocaine smuggling bust. Boyle is outspoken, rude, politically incorrect and tampers with evidence. He is a paradox. But we know by his actions that he has his priorities firmly set and his heart is in the right place.
The dialogue is at times hilarious and the context gives it additional punch. I love the idea and execution of how the drug traffickers make fun of their self-professed roles as baddies. They're sick of the low-life with whom they have to deal and state the obvious - that they're drug traffickers, so what can they expect? David Wilmot's wide-eyed Liam wonders aloud whether he is a psychopath or a sociopath and I especially like the self-parodying Mark Strong as Clive.
It is Gleeson who steals the film with a brilliantly judged performance of the self-professed lowly country nobody who knows how things work around County Galway and who has a few surprises hidden under his loud-mouth exterior. Don Cheadle is beautifully cast as the contrasting FBI Rhodes scholar who plays his moves by the book and Fionnula Flanagan is terrific as Boyle's ill mother, whose presence impacts.
It is the characterisations and their actions that catch us off guard in this nicely written and played film whose genres blend as comfortably as the characters.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Brendan Gleeson showed his superb comedic chops in the darkly hilarious In Bruges (2008) with Colin Farrell, directed by Martin McDonagh - the younger brother of John Michael McDonagh, who makes his own black comedy debut with The Guard. But The Guard is no flimsy copy of his brother's work as JM twists the genre into a unique piece of work.
We are never in doubt that it's a comedy, but there are some fairly serious matters and a surprising amount of dramatic action. And that's what gives the film its unique tone, which the filmmakers maintain throughout, thanks to superbly modulated performances.
Gleeson is thoroughly engaging as the foul mouthed, world weary cop who is so laid back he could be mistaken for disinterested. Actually, he is a bit ... but a series of incidents do attract his interest, and this is where McDonagh does especially well, writing his character through his actions. There is a wonderful sense of Irish eccentricity to Boyle, and his contradictory characteristics just make him seem absolutely real, from his loving relationship with his mum (Fionnulla Flanagan) to his lively taste for hookers.
Don Cheadle is a marvellous idea, contrasting in every way with Gleeson's Gerry Boyle, as the neat, formal FBI man Wendell Everett. The odd couple aspect is well exploited and the clash of cultures allowed to run free.
Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot are outstanding as the drug smugglers who simply bribe their way through the small seaside town's police force as they wait for a shipment to arrive. Katarina Cas makes a strong impression as Gabriela, the wife of the recently transferred police officer, Aiden McBride (Rory Keenan) who disappears.
There are echoes of Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs here and there, but not as plagiarism, more like influences. What makes McDonagh's film especially interesting is the subtlety of his characters' emotional journeys, and the very clear story telling.
At times we feel he has overstepped the line between black comedy and drama, which he does, but this, too, adds texture to the film and gives it more substance. In the end, we realise he has something of value to say about people like Gerry Boyle ...
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GUARD, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionulla Flanagan, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene
PRODUCER: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Merango, Ed Guiney
DIRECTOR: John Michael McDonagh
SCRIPT: John Michael McDonagh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Larry Smith
EDITOR: Chris Gill
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Paul Kelly
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission/Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 25, 2011