The Guard is a cheerfully brash and irreverent comedy thriller from Ireland that manages to ring a few changes on the hoary old odd-couple detective routine. Brendan Gleeson has the starring role as Gerry Boyle, a long-serving, sardonic and resolutely non-impressed Garda sergeant whose normal day-to-day routine in the sparsely populated Connemara region consists of not much more than a few lattes in working hours and some beers and the odd call-girl in the evening, and he’s fantastic: world-weary without being embittered, and with a penchant for dropping staggeringly politically incorrect comments into delicate exchanges. The plot kicks in when the activities of some local drug barons attract the attention of the FBI, who send over bright and straight-laced agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to intercept a multi-million dollar cocaine consignment, and inevitably conflict arises between his by-the-book methods and Boyle’s somewhat more informal approach.
This is not a film that takes itself very seriously. The plot and its mechanics are predictable and perfunctory and director/writer John Michael McDonagh and his cast clearly aren’t too bothered about it. It’s also true that, one or two flashy camera moves aside, the direction and editing of the film is pretty basic and sometimes decidedly choppy, with a lot of abrupt cuts and not much establishing of location or context (the start and end of the showing I attended were particularly sudden, and the print showed an unusual amount of grain, to the extent that it seemed like it was a dodgy pirate copy of the film that was being screened), and the colour schemes and lighting used throughout seemed designed to be deliberately jarring. None of this however matters too much, or detracts from the pleasure to be had here: the strength of The Guard is in its characterisation and its many highly enjoyable scenes featuring foul-mouthed yet witty dialogue. The closest point of reference for me is the unassailably wonderful In Bruges, also featuring Brendan Gleeson delivering yards of gleefully obscenity-ridden script (and possibly non-coincidentally written and directed by Martin McDonagh, brother of John Michael). The Guard never really gets near the formal brilliance of In Bruges (after a while you realise that the scenario is so thin that you’re never really going to invest yourself in the characters) but in places it’s just as funny, and it sure doesn’t outstay its welcome. There are some good support performances here too: Cheadle does a good job with the thankless straight man role, and Liam Cunningham relishes his part as the loquacious gang boss with an improbable interest in philosophy, plus you get Mark Strong doing his hard-man-for-hire bit as a disaffected and haughty English thug who takes every opportunity to express his disdain for Ireland and America alike. A film destined to be entertaining folk after the pub closes for some time I think.