Connect with us


The Guard | Review

Brendan Gleeson is Brilliant as Button-pushing Irish Cop in McDonagh’s Satisfying Debut

Brendan Gleeson is never less than note-perfect as the puerile, pure-of-heart Irish cop who takes a stand against the rising tide of crime and corruption in The Guard, writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s witty and fun feature debut. Dry and irreverent, McDonagh’s script skirts the conventions of the self-reflexive, tongue-in-cheek crime genre — philosophizing killers, stylized violence, etc. — without falling prey to tired cliché.

A displaced Western at heart, the movie dwarfs its hapless humans with mist-blasted Irish landscapes in place of open desert, though Calexico’s over-the-top Morricone-quoting spaghetti score is an unneeded add-on. Sprightly pacing allows the familiar plot to take a backseat to character study: Wily and brash, with an inner undertow of nobility, Sgt. Boyle is a man who never met a pretense he couldn’t take the piss out of. Eyes glimmering with unrepentance, Gleeson ably embodies the contrasts, while also preserving a core mystery that lends the character a near-mythic quality.

After a brutal murder with perplexing clues shakes up the sleepy coastal town of Connemara, it’s not long before local cop Gerry Boyle and his neophyte officer McBride are up to their necks in drug trafficking, gunplay, blackmail, and general malice. When the help of newly arrived, out-of-his-depth FBI agent Wendell Everett (a nicely restrained Don Cheadle) does little in the way of expediting justice, it becomes increasingly likely that Boyle may have to take on all the crooks himself.

The drug-abusing, prostitute-frequenting, bullshitting Boyle is a Falstaff-ian foil to Harvey Keitel’s ‘Bad Lieutenant‘; his jovial ennui is just as real as Keitel’s spiritual crisis. Boyle’s an inquisitive vulgarian, as apt to be discussing world literature (the Russians take too long to get to the point) as he is playing shoot-em-up arcade games at his local pub. He’s a lover of mothers and whores alike, and spends equal time in the company of both. He’s a man who, when he goes off-duty for the night, kicks back with a beer and flips on the telly not for the football or a little light viewing, but instead to watch Jerzy Skolimowski’s cryptic, terrifying psychodrama, ‘The Shout.’ He’s warmhearted; he’s a prick. He may be a sinner, but Boyle is no materialist mercenary. If his moral compass is adjustable, it’s less from self-justification than a resigned compassion for a weak-willed world.

The supporting roles are all smartly cast. Don Cheadle fits comfortably as the straight man, a genteel FBI agent whose by-the-book earnestness makes him a lame duck in the effortlessly corrupt, Gaelic-shielded Irish community.

As the trio of metaphysically curious, drug-running psychos, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and David Wilmot all give solid, peculiarly likable, if not resume-stretching performances. In smaller roles, Fionnula Flanagan as Boyle’s ailing mother and Katarina Cas as the Croatian wife of his Garda partner give the movie a heartfelt emotional anchor.

A sharp little summer surprise, ‘The Guard’ shares the tone and sensibility of the work of McDonagh’s better-known brother Martin, though without ever reaching the heights of the latter’s denser, deeper ‘In Bruges’ (which also features Gleeson). Still, the two films work as companion pieces, and should make for a nice DVD night double feature.

Rating 3.5 stars

Continue Reading
You may also like...

Ryan Brown is a filmmaker and freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He has an MFA in Media Arts from City College, CUNY. His short films GATE OF HEAVEN and DAUGHTER OF HOPE can be viewed here: With Antonio Tibaldi, he co-wrote the screenplay 'The Oldest Man Alive,' which was selected for the "Emerging Narrative" section of IFP's 2012 Independent Film Week. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Live Flesh), Assayas (Cold Water), Bellochio (Fists in the Pocket), Breillat (Fat Girl), Coen Bros. (Burn After Reading), Demme (Something Wild), Denis (Friday Night), Herzog (The Wild Blue Yonder), Leigh (Another Year), Skolimowski (Four Nights with Anna), Zulawski (She-Shaman)

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top