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‘Guard’ puts dark Irish twist on buddy-cop comedy

Published: September 2, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.


Contemporary filmmakers have long had an affection for the buddy-cop comedy, though most—think “Rush Hour” to “Turner and Hooch”—are middling at best. The genre gets a new twist in director John Michael McDonagh’s “The Guard,” which adds a little off-color Irish charm to an otherwise tired genre.

Irish policeman Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleason) is the epitome of unorthodox. In the film’s opening scene, he groggily observes a speeding, teenager-filled vehicle speed by his parked car; only a loud crash rouses him out of his stupor. When he comes across their scattered bodies, he stoops, rifles through one of their pockets, and uncovers some ecstasy, which he promptly pops in his mouth.

For all that, Boyle isn’t really a crooked cop—he simply doesn’t care much about his job and no one else in his sleepy west Irish town really seems to think he should. Sure he may flagrantly parade around town with two prostitutes (dressed as sexy cops!) in tow but he gets the job done well enough. The film also hints at a softer side: When he’s not at work, Boyle can usually be found visiting his saucy, terminally-ill mother (Finnula Flanagan) at the local hospice.

Things change when FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives. Everett is searching for a trio of English and Irish drug importers who plan on landing half-a-billion dollars worth of cocaine on the island. Boyle and Everett immediately clash. “I thought only black people were drug dealers,” Boyle tells Everett, pausing only to add “and Mexicans.” When Everett challenges him on this point, Boyle’s only response is that he’s Irish: “Racism is part of my culture.”

Unsurprisingly, Boyle and Everett put aside their differences and form an odd couple. While Boyle may be naive about blacks, he turns out to be a good cop when he sets his mind to it—and, when the rest of the police force is receiving payoffs from drug dealers, that certainly comes in handy.

McDonagh’s film has drawn many comparisons to 2008’s “In Bruges,” which incidentally was directed by his brother, playwright Martin McDonagh. It’s true that there are some similarities—both are crackling black comedies, though this one focuses on lawmen instead of assassins, and both benefit from the presence of Gleason. There are some major thematic differences though. “In Bruges” concerns itself with redemption, while “The Guard” is content to stay in its lighter fish-out-of-water, don’t-trust-first-impressions bubble. That isn’t necessarily a criticism but it does differentiate the two.

The cast here is clearly having a blast with the material. Gleason has a knack for turning his hulking form into a character itself—a single sullen look from him manages to explain the character’s entire approach to the world. Cheadle excels as well, in part because his sincere, no-nonsense manner is so different from Gleason’s own style. Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot have supporting roles as the cheeky drug importers who are being pursued; they are as adept at discussing Bertrand Russell as they are at murdering people, making them a pleasurable addition.

This is McDonagh’s first feature film, surprising considering the quality of the final product. The action is masterfully paced and the great production work brings all the settings to life, particularly Boyle’s garish home. As far as the script is concerned, virtually every character swears like a proverbial sailor, but it works in context—it doesn’t hurt that the dialogue is, in a word, some of the wittiest you’ll come across in a movie theater this year.

This summer boasted a number of high-profile comedies like “Bridesmaids” and “Midnight in Paris” that were actually surprisingly good—it’s truly startling just how few good comedies come out in a given year. While “The Guard” hasn’t received quite the same level of attention as those films, it’s definitely not one to be missed.