- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ovies like “The Guard” make me wish that I had studied abroad in the U.K., because then maybe I wouldn't have so much trouble deciphering those thick accents that tend to handicap U.S. viewers. Though the film isn't affected too much by the actors' Irish brogues save for the odd line of dialogue, you still get the feeling that you're missing out on a few jokes as a result. It’s not as problematic as it sounds, but it’s worth noting, especially because “The Guard” manages to be amusing even when you're not totally sure what's going on. But while it's not exactly Ireland’s answer to "Hot Fuzz," (despite the numerous comparisons), the film is a darkly humorous take on the buddy cop genre that fans of the British comedy will really enjoy.
Set in the small town of Connemara, the film stars Brendan Gleeson as Gerry Boyle, a police sergeant in the Irish garda who steals drugs from crime scenes and whores around with prostitutes when he’s not getting himself into trouble with his mouth. But Gerry doesn’t try to hide who he is, stating matter-of-factly, “I’m Irish, racism is part of my culture,” when he makes some incredibly un-PC comments to visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). His unconventional behavior certainly takes Everett by surprise during their first meeting, but after Gerry proves to be a lot smarter than he looks, he’s brought in to work alongside Everett on a case involving an international drug trafficking ring.
Though it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as brother Martin’s 2008 black comedy, “In Bruges,” John Michael McDonagh’s film is packed with several great performances. Don Cheadle plays the perfect straight man to Brendan Gleeson’s quirky cop; Mark Strong has some of the movie’s funniest moments as a short-tempered British gangster working for some Irish thugs (Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot); and Fionnula Flanagan provides some much-needed gravity to the story as Gerry’s sick mother. And then there’s Gleeson himself, who’s always been a bit of an underrated actor, but delivers some of his best work here with a character whose proclivity for saying the wrong thing is almost charming to a fault. Gerry clearly doesn't know any better, but it's exactly his refreshingly blunt honesty that makes him so darn likeable.
It may be a completely different McDonagh brother behind the camera, but you wouldn’t know it from the script, which reads a lot like “In Bruges” between the strikingly similar comedic tone, memorable one-liners, and excessive use of the F-word. (Gleeson’s involvement certainly plays a part as well.) And while the film draws from well-worn genres like buddy cop movies, Westerns, and fish-out-of-water comedies, “The Guard” creates a unique identity of its own – a movie where the hero is the complete antithesis of what you’d normally expect, and where the criminals aren’t just two-bit thugs, but intellectuals who sit around discussing their favorite philosophers. It’s that intrinsic oddness that makes “The Guard” so entertaining, and it’s why John Michael McDonagh will likely follow in his brother’s footsteps as yet another writer/director worth watching.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Already a huge hit on the festival circuit, “The Guard” is sure to gain a whole new audience of admirers now that it’s available on Blu-ray. Although the audio commentary with director John Michael McDonagh and actors Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle isn’t nearly as entertaining as you might expect, the rest of the extras are much better, including a Q&A with the trio from the LA Film Fest, a making-of featurette, nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes and McDonagh’s short film, “The Second Death.”