“Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, these men are armed and dangerous, and you being an FBI agent you're more used to shooting at unarmed women and children.”
John Michael McDonagh’s feature film debut is as irreverent as the main character of this movie played by Brendan Gleeson who isn’t afraid of the repercussions his words might have on the rest of his peers. Gleeson plays an unorthodox Irish policeman of a small local community who when attending a meeting with an American FBI agent played by Don Cheadle makes a number of racist remarks such as “I thought only black lads were drug dealers?” and then justifies his behavior by claiming “I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture.” The Guard is basically a vehicle for Gleeson to make all sorts of irreverent remarks and that is where most of the laughs come from as you combine McDonagh’s witty screenplay with Gleeson’s performance. We’d seen Gleeson team up with McDonagh’s brother in the past working with a similar sense of Irish humor in In Bruges. Your enjoyment for this film depends on your appreciation for this style of humor, which is very different from American comedies, since it is dry, rude, and insolent. McDonagh isn’t worried about being politically correct and Gleeson’s perfect delivery of each line made The Guard an entertaining experience for me. The humor doesn’t always work like in In Bruges, but at least it hits most of its notes. Gleeson and Cheadle have a couple of great scenes together, but there are also some great supporting performances from Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot.
The opening scene is one of the funniest I’ve seen in recent months and it sets the tone of the film perfectly with its dark humor. A group of young kids are driving at a high speed in their sport vehicle and just as they pass a local policeman and the camera focuses on him we hear a loud crash. Inspector Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) walks to the sight of the accident and searches the pockets of the victims finding some drugs and taking them while making some witty remark about not wanting to tell their mother’s what he has found. We are then introduced to Gerry and his confrontational personality when he teams up with FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) who is in the small Irish town investigating a multimillion dollar drug trafficking operation. Gerry doesn’t seem too interested in the drug case, but when these drug dealers cross the line and try to intimidate him he decides they’ve gone to far.
The movie could’ve easily fallen into predictable territory centering on the odd-couple humor, but thanks to Gleeson’s performance and McDonagh’s script it stands out as an original film. The Guard deconstructs much of the detective procedural elements we’ve seen in other movies and McDonagh seems to have a lot of fun doing this as he directs his own material. His directorial debut showed a lot of promise, and surprisingly in his sophomore film, Calvary, he shies away from the genre and enters into more dramatic territory although continuing to work with Gleeson. It seems the two have established a solid relationship as the director’s writing seems perfect for the actor’s delivery. The Guard is an unconventional character study that had me laughing during most of its runtime.