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+)