Wickedly original and smartly entertaining, The Guard stars beefy Irishman Brendan Gleeson as the kind of anti-super-hero we just want more of: he may not be able to leap even very small things in a single bound, but he’ll drop a bad guy with a withering one-liner or a profane comment that lies somewhere between cunning and innocence. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the film comes alive through Gleeson’s inspired performance as a small town policeman who knows enough about life – in a very laissez-faire kind of way – to handle anything that comes his direction.
Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, the sort of cop who doesn’t really go in for buddies. He lives alone in a lonely place – a small town on the remote west coast of Ireland – and regularly visits his mum who’s terminally ill. His ambition has shrunk to enjoying himself once a week with a couple of playful hookers, and there’s not really much in the way of crime to worry about in County Galway. That is until a gang of international drug smugglers hits town, leaving some unexplained dead bodies lying around. In his own laconic way Boyle starts working out what’s going on when elite American FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives to take over proceedings. The interaction and banter between the two men will make you want to watch the film twice and, as their friendship develops, you get to realise that there’s a lot more to Boyle than meets the eye. When Gleeson is not on screen, the collection of criminals (headed by Mark Strong) are more than hilarious enough to compensate.
Everyone is making comparisons with In Bruges (which also starred Gleeson and which was written by McDonagh’s brother Martin), but this is rougher around the edges in its directing and cinematography, and makes little attempt to hide the way the plot is clearly heading. But with McDonagh’s sharp writing and the collection of wildly unorthodox characters in play there’s plenty to entertain. The film is topped off with a fresh and cheeky design, complete with lurid interior colours, Western-style opening credits and some excellent music from Indie-folk rock band Calexico.
But really this film belongs to Gleeson – he seems to have effortlessly conjured up a complex and charismatic mix of world-weariness and caring, all wrapped up in that enigmatic Irish charm.