An apathetic Irish policeman ideal life of coasting on the bare minimum is disturbed as he is forced to team with an American FBI agent to solve an international drug trafficking case.
Martin McDonagh’s superb dark comedy In Bruges provided Brendan Gleeson with a terrific role in 2008. Now, three years later, Gleeson teams up with John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin, to sink his teeth into an even juicier character in this darkly comic, surprisingly action packed Irish thriller.
Gleeson seems born to play the part of Gerry Boyle, an apathetic police sergeant in rural Ireland, who is as smart as he is crass and racist. Boyle coasts through life in his small town until the day he is paired up with an eager new partner (Rory Keenan) to investigate a murder which appears to be linked to a bigger case involving international drug running. Enter FBI agent Wendell Pierce (Don Cheadle). Sincere and professional, Pierce is everything Boyle isn’t. So begins the fish out of water tale that forms much of The Guard’s middle third as the two strike up an unlikely partnership to help bring down the drug traffickers, including Mark Strong giving a solid turn as the world-weary criminal who’s getting too old for this shit.
Though it brings many of the clichéd elements of the buddy cop formula, The Guard provides enough of a twist on the sub-genre to make it feel fresh. The tone is very much the same as In Bruges, with deliciously dark humour punctuating every scene, Gleeson’s Boyle cursing, drinking and whoring throughout the movie like Ireland’s answer to Bad Lieutenant. Some of the statements Boyle makes are often so shockingly blunt or outrageous that you can’t be sure whether he’s intentionally goading people or if he genuinely means what he’s saying. We are however allowed access to Boyle’s softer side through his relationship with his dying mother, which leads to some of the movie’s best scenes, Gleeson bringing another dimension to an already fantastic character.
For a movie that often lampoons the genre, referencing The Wire and a host of other cop shows, it’s only fitting that it ends in an audacious shoot out. Unfortunately this isn’t handled as well as the rest of the film and at times feels slightly disjointed but we go with it as by this point we are so fully invested in the character. The climax leaves things open to interpretation with a few different scenarios possible, all of which would be a suitably fitting outcome for Boyle.
Though not quite as entertaining as In Bruges, The Guard is ultimately a smart, darkly comic twist on the buddy cop movie, the charming Irish wit making a tired genre feel fresh again. Gleeson deliver a career best performance, embodying the character to perfection, bringing comedy and genuine pathos in equal measure. Though lesser turns have won big awards in recent years, I’ve no doubt Gleeson’s work here will be overlooked come awards season as The Guard is set to feature on numerous ‘Underrated Films of the Year’ lists come the end of the year.