The Guard

Popping with glorious, bright colour and off-colour jokes, The Guard is an Irish comedy and almost incidental thriller, though mostly it’s something of a bait and switch. The tasty bait (and reluctant buddies) are Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, two of the best utility players in contemporary English-language cinema. Alone or together, they can be reason to see any movie. Even when they’ve been self-consciously set off against each other for maximum quirk, as they are here, these are performers who can dig a little deeper than their material.

Poster art for The GuardAided and abetted by the writer and director John Michael McDonagh, Mr. Gleeson grabs the film early and runs. The scene opens on a speeding, crowded red car, tunes pumping, that races right past Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Mr. Gleeson), parked at the side of a pretty, peaceful country road. The car is going fast enough to stir the trees, but not an inch on Boyle’s fleshy, totemic face moves, his apparent slumber disturbed only by the crunch and bang of a tremendous crash. Opening his eyes as lazily as a sun-drunk lizard, he rouses himself and heads over to the wreckage, whereupon he picks the pockets of a dead man and drops his acid. ‘I don’t think your Mammy,’ he chastises the corpse, ‘will be too pleased about that, now.’

If you’re looking for some Irish sentimentalism, look elsewhere or, really, just wait. Alternately charming and charmless, Boyle works as a lawman (specifically a garda, Gaelic for guard), in a part of County Galway that looks like a tourist’s dream. Appearances can be deceiving (one of the film’s lessons), though, and murder and drug smuggling befoul the air and complicate the narrative. Boyle doesn’t so much break the law as make his own, hiring prostitutes for extracurricular sport and ignoring the usual policing niceties. He’s a self-anointed independent who loves the sound of dirty-word bombs in the morning, noon and night but also takes care of his sick mother (Fionnula Flanagan).

As to the story: Mr. Cheadle, often dashingly dressed in black and jaunty hat, enters as an F.B.I agent, Wendell Everett (perhaps a nod to the American actor Wendell Pierce). Everett is looking to intercept a large drug shipment. He and Boyle meet cute tough-guy style, with Boyle voicing racist nonsense during a briefing. A straight arrow, Wendell responds with an arched brow and disbelieving laugh, but a friendship or at least a work team is born. This is followed by many drinks, villainy – including by a trifecta of baddies played by Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot – a missing corpse and some incidental women who are somewhat livelier than the errant dead man. Mr. Gleeson’s rogue is a treat, however conceptually contrived, and Mr. Cheadle’s lightly played gravity is a pleasure.

Along with tickling your ear with his words, Boyle’s long strings of expletives and offbeat syntax, Mr. McDonagh gives you plenty to look at. Boyle sleeps in a loud green room, and wears a matching robe, and questions suspects in a police room vibrating with Yves Klein blue. The shocks of colour – much like Boyle’s expletives – jolt the movie and your system both. The results are vaguely evocative of late-1960s, early-1970s gangster flicks, though filtered through Steven Soderbergh movies like Out Of Sight.

– Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

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