The Guard John Michael McDonagh
Published Aug 25, 2011If there is a renaissance in the talkative cops and robbers genre right now it's being led by a pair of Irish brothers: Martin and John McDonagh. Martin, a playwright turned screenwriter/director, was responsible for the gleefully profane In Bruges, a hit man comedy with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson that injected a shot of caustic cleverness into a moribund genre. Now, brother John makes his feature debut with an equally profane and dryly hilarious work, also starring Gleeson, which focuses on the other side of the law.
In The Guard, Gleeson is Gerry Doyle, a career police officer in Galway on the West coast of Ireland. Sleepy, quaint and more Irish than James Joyce flinging a sheleighleigh across a pub, Galway, and Doyle's unassuming cop life with it, is disturbed by the arrival of FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), on the hunt for cocaine smugglers. Doyle's lack of political correctness and unconventional old-school style hardly ingratiate him with the button-down American (he half-jokingly claims, "I'm Irish, sir, racism is part of my culture," when Everett takes offence to one of his many off-hand remarks about black people). But as Everett runs into dead-ends with the locals, the two realize their greater common ground.
The Guard is a film of conversation and interaction, as Doyle also contends with the disappearance of newly arrived partner McBride (Rory Keenan) and his mother's (Fionnula Flanagan) impending death from cancer. Lest it seem like The Guard is mopey and dour, it instead uses Doyle's unsentimental worldview as a vehicle for dark comedy. The film is sharply written by McDonagh, with moments of rude humour mixed with philosophical musings, anchored by a great performance by Gleeson, whose subtle stone face belies Doyle's razor-sharp instincts, honed through a life of keeping the peace.
Consistently funny and painfully real, The Guard somewhat loses its way in the final act, with a gun battle that, while certainly modest by contemporary Hollywood standards, feels a little lazy and uncreative considering the unconventional and subtle police procedural that precedes it. Otherwise, The Guard is an often brilliant and ruthlessly funny film that takes no prisoners. (Alliance)