(2010)4Perry SeibertSome actors are like bacon -- they make anything they're in even better. Brendan Gleeson is just about the best cinematic bacon in the world, but with The Guard, he gets to be the main course -- and a flavorful dish it is indeed.
He plays Gerry Boyle, an honorable cop with a taste for alcohol, drugs, and hookers, who also makes time to be a good son to his dying mother. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh establishes Boyle's personal code with the opening scene of the movie, involving Boyle's darkly comic take on a fatal car accident, then slowly lets us see how good and smart a man this seemingly corrupted small-town cop actually is.
Boyle is put to the test when by-the-book FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives in Ireland tracking down three drug traffickers, who are supposedly going to ship a half-billion dollars in cocaine through the town's port. Boyle and Everett clash initially -- the Irishman's seemingly casual racism and frumpy appearance don't sit well with the uptight, honest American -- but Everett slowly catches on that Boyle knows much more than he lets on.
The Guard is a perfectly solid crime story, but this is a character study first and foremost, and with Gleeson front and center throughout, we're treated to a hilarious and touching portrait of stereotypical John Wayne manliness mixed with Irish sensitivities and Charlie Sheen's idea of relaxation. Gleeson revels in this meaty part, bringing out Boyle's loving side in the conversations with his mother with just as much authenticity as when he showcases the man's wild side during a romp with two prostitutes. The whole cast is pitch-perfect, and Cheadle offers flawless comic support, but this is Gleeson's show from beginning to end.
As far as difficult tones go, dark comedy is one of the toughest to capture. McDonagh's deft screenplay manages the tricky feat of actually being lightly dark, shading its main character just enough so that we're surprised how much we care about what will happen to him during the inevitable final shoot-out that ends the movie. In that way and many others, the film resembles In Bruges, which was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who is not only the executive producer here but also the brother of the director.
Don't be thrown off by the thick Irish accents, The Guard has a stellar lead performance, some very big laughs, and manages to offer an original take on the hard-boiled detective -- one of the most enduring archetypes in movie history.