The Guard won an unusual and well deserved award shortly after release, becoming as it remains at the end of 2011 as the highest grossing Irish independent film at the Irish box office. Directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of fellow director Martin McDonagh whose most famous film to date is scabrous black comedy In Bruges, The Guard was co-produced by the brothers as well as one of the lead stars Don Cheadle. It didn’t explode on the global scene quite as much as it’s sister piece, or should that be ‘brother piece’ In Bruges taking only $17m globally compared to $33m, but it was one of the highlights of the Sundance Film Festival that year.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is an unorthodox Garda (Irish Police Officer) in Galway, Ireland. His routine of having a quiet, lonely life is interrupted by a murder and the threat of a £500m drug deal made by a group of drug-traffickers including Clive Cornell (Mark Strong). FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) is stationed in Gerry’s office and begins working with the stubborn Sergeant to try and find the location of the traffickers and stop the deal from being made.
Setting its stall out as a black comedy, The Guard is more akin to a classic Western than it is about drug dealing. With a unique score that has simmering, Mexican style influences and the homage shots in close-up of the protagonists whenever they’re thinking or about to spring into action, it could easily have been set in the Old West. The dialogue is whip-crack fast, with some incredible one-liners and a careless and deliberate disregard for political correctness. Gleeson and Cheadle’s chemistry is scintillating and provides the real meat of the script.
The question of whether Sergeant Boyle is a madman or genius permeates throughout and it is this question that so endears the audience to him. He’s rude, misunderstood and most of all lonely. This combination makes him the last bastion of independence in the Garda and the only man seemingly above high-level corruption. Gleeson is able to tie together whimsical, if rude, eccentricity with an underlying melancholy and he commands every second of screen-time afforded to him.
While it is a slow-starter and slightly loses its way toward the very end, The Guard is one of the funniest and most engaging comedies of 2011.