Thursday, June 9, 2011

SFF Review: The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)

In The Guard, Brendan Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox small town Irish Police Sergeant with a confrontational personality, a callous laziness towards his profession and a crass indifference to the laws he is supposed to uphold. Consequently he has not care whatsoever for his Cocaine-smuggling ring that brings an uptight FBI Agent (Don Cheadle) to his door requiring his assistance and stressing professionalism.

Writer/director John Michael McDonagh's hilarious black comedy is not only an amusing character study, but also a subversive twist on the buddy cop gene. A major hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year, Gleeson, who delivers what is likely to be one of the year's most memorable performances, effortlessly anchors the film.

Boyle nonchalantly patrols his small town and keeps most people at arms length. He passes the time by experimenting with the drugs he pulls off perpetrators, and has a fondness for prostitutes. He also has a dying mother (a fantastic Fionulla Flanagan), whom he shares some tender moments with. When a rare murder case pops up, Boyle is right there.

He and his new partner from Dublin, McBride, investigate a few useless leads. When McBride disappears and suspected to be dead, FBI Agent Wendell Everett turns up and raises the possibility that the two cases could be linked to a suspected drug trafficking ring. Boyle, despite some intentional early taunting, accepts Everett as his new partner and is unwillingly drawn into the case. With the rest of the bureau paid off by the gang, which includes Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong, it is left to the unlikely pair to take them down.

The story is fairly standard, and remains pretty simple. Rather than wildly convoluting the narrative with complex subplots, the film focuses almost exclusively on Boyle, with the villains coming across as fairly two dimensional. They also seem to be too sure of themselves and underestimate Boyle, which makes the climax less satisfying then it could have been. They were entertaining enough, which was great to see. I wish more time was given to Everett too. He is taken along for the ride, reacting to Boyle's antics. When he is given individual screen time, on Boyle's 'day off', his amusing attempts to question the locals felt stale.

Though the screenplay indulges in random conversation and off-tangent discussion, it does remain surprisingly focused, and frequently entertaining. Crude, profane and full of witty jabs at American culture, this may just be the funniest film of the year. There were a few times when I struggled to make out the Irish accent, but oddly, I think mishearing some of the delivery worked in its favour.

Boyle at first pleasures himself ridiculing Everett but sure enough the mismatched pair find a way to see eye to eye. Boyle is too preoccupied with his verbal taunts to recognise Everett's passion for the case, while Everett starts to recognise that Boyle's flashes of skill as a policeman and his rash unpredictability does overthrow his often inappropriate sense of humour. Boyle is always one step ahead of the case, despite his seemingly oblivious attitude and lack of interest.

Gleeson once again proves he is one of he most likeable actors in the business, following terrific supporting performances in the Harry Potter Franchise, 28 Days Later, and most notably In Bruges. Don Cheadle's versatility has become more apparent with each role following Out of Sight and Traffic from over a decade ago. They certainly make for a bizarre pairing.

Despite the only real similarity between The Guard and In Bruges (one of my favourite films of 2008) being the involvement of Gleeson, the style of dry humour is very similar in each of these films. It could also be that John Michael McDonagh's brother is in fact Martin McDonagh, the writer/director of In Bruges. The effective cinematography from Larry Smith, and inventive score from Colexico should also be commended.

The Guard is a film that knows it is funny, and allows the fantastic cast to work their talents into the writing. Fresh, frequently funny, engaging and surprisingly touching, The Guard makes it two winners out of two at the SFF so far.

My Rating: 4 Stars (B+)


  1. I quite liked that movie! A bit difficult to understand... Saw it at the Berlin Film Festival and got to meet the cast and the director afterwards which was fun!

  2. Very good review Andy,

    I enjoyed In Bruges very much, especially Gleeson's performance. So I'll definitely be seeing this one as it sounds like it's in a similar vein.
    Also these kind of "fish out of the water" comedies can be brilliant if done correctly, most of the time they are not though...
    I suppose it's going to take quite a while to be released where I live though.

  3. This is definitely one of my more anticipated films. Love Irish cop movies.

  4. I saw the trailer for this a few days ago and found myself enjoying Brendan Gleeson's performance. He seems like a fun chap to hang out with. I want to see this.

  5. @ Vanessa: It was difficult to understand at times, with their accents, but I thought it was very funny! You got to meet Brendan Gleeson? That's amazing! I remember your post on this film, now. Thanks for reading :-)

  6. @ Jack: It's another highlight for Gleeson, and while the "fish out of water" premise could have been taken further, Cheadle wasn't the main character so he was never going to be given too much focus. I don't know when it will be released, but it's certainly worth a look.

    @ Fitz: It's a lot of fun, that's for sure. Thanks for reading Fitz.

    @ Steven: I really like Brendan Gleeson. I agree, I'd love to sit and have a beer with him. This might be one of the year's best performances!

  7. I'm really interesting in checking this one out, especially after all the comparisons to IN BRUGES.

    Also, love the redesign. Sleek!

  8. @ Tom: Thanks, I really like it. While it is certainly a very different story, it does feature an oddly mismatched pair, and is often uproariously funny.

    @ Sam: How am I doing so far? Two reviews in two nights ain't too hard, but bring on the weekend haha.

  9. I adore Brendan Gleeson, his role and performance in In Bruges is just great. Haven't watched that one in a while ... should!

    This feels like something I would very much enjoy. I like police. And the Irish.

  10. Looking forward to seeing this one, for sure. Thanks for the write-up!

  11. My pleasure, Colin. Thanks for reading!

  12. It is a great film. You got a typo though as the director of IN BRUGES is MARTIN Mcdonagh not Michael. I thought the whole tone of the two films were similar as, for one, they both deconstruct different film cliches. IN BRUGE Deconstructing the shoot out that finishes the story and THE GUARD Deconstructing the nature of a payoff. Both films play with genre conventions and distort them. Great stuff Andy and thanks for the links too!

  13. Oops. Fail. Thanks Simon.

    You're welcome Re: links.

    You make some great observations, and if there was a film that The Guard reminded me of, it was certainly In Bruges. I love both films.

  14. Absolutely hilarious film. Gleeson needs more leading man roles, I don't care in what, but he needs them.

  15. Agreed. I had a great time. Gleeson is the man. I always enjoy his work.