The Guard comes out of a tradition of Irish comedy that has given us polar opposites in The Commitments and The Butcher Boy, and the small screen adventures of Father Ted, but its immediate roots are in the American buddy cop comedy. Don’t let this put you off, as it’s also the debut film of John Michael McDonagh, the brother of Martin McDonagh, the writer and director of the hilarious In Bruges. Taking a leaf out of his brother’s playbook, not to mention his star Brendan Gleeson, the other McDonagh makes his own mark on the family ledger.
Unorthodox Irish policeman Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) operates in the definition of small town Ireland. Undisciplined, frequently drunk or high and spending his time on local hookers, his life is somewhat disrupted when straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, Iron Man 2) arrives in town to track down an international drug-smuggling ring.
While the initial premise may be somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s similarly themed Hot Fuzz, The Guard is in no way aiming to parody the genre. Rather, it simply transplants it to the unlikeliest of locales, and therein lies its genius. The storyline itself is fairly generically plotted, but this allows the film the freedom to let Gleeson do his thing, and a marvellous thing it is too. While at times charming, the film avoids sentimentalism from the opening sequences, in which a clever switch-up reveals the true nature of Boyle’s corruption. Indeed, Boyle and Gleeson are one in the same, and it is difficult to believe that anybody other than the rotund star could play this fabulous character. The relationship between Gleeson and the straight-man Cheadle forms the heart of the film, and lifts The Guard above the typical cop comedy.
Grounding The Guard on the flip side of the coin are the potty-mouthed bad guys, led by Francis Sheehy (Liam Cunningham, The Whistleblower). Right proper baddies they are too, complete with cockney accents and a licence to kill, which they do repeatedly. Mark Strong in particular, as the somewhat philosophical hitman who laments the loss of international drug trafficker etiquette, treads the line between parody and genuine article with regularity, resulting is some of the most side-splitting moments in the film. This is true of all the supporting cast, including a cast of locals who confound Cheadle’s Wendell Everett with their Gaelic, and one very peculiar young lad who may be an instant star. It all builds to the familiar Hollywood-style shootout, but McDonagh and his disdain for all things conventional manages to get us to the inevitable in ways that keep this comedy fresh and free-wheeling throughout.
The Guard is released in Australia on 25 August 2011 from Transmission.