The Guard Review

(3.5 STARS)

The Guard is the better-looking, funnier, and more interesting younger brother of 2008’s In Bruges. Coincidently (or perhaps not), it’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother to In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh. That irony is funny in and of itself, but really, The Guard is quite a good little film. It’s lead character—Sergeant Gerry Boyle—is one of a kind. Not quite Bad Lieutenant-esque, Boyle is an unorthodox lawman, but there’s something real behind his very un-PC exterior. His relationships with both a visiting FBI agent and his mother give the film a great deal of heart and help elevate the film above your average quirky dramedy.

The film is centered around a murder and major drug smuggling operation in Connemara, Ireland. Boyle (a fantastic Brendan Gleeson) discovers the body of a two-bit criminal, along with his new partner, Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan). They don’t think much of it at first, but Boyle is later called to a presentation by an American agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), to learn more about the aforementioned drug ring. When his stiff’s face pops-up on the known suspects slideshow, he’s thrust into the limelight, despite not exactly following protocol to a T. But when McBride’s body turns up cold, Boyle and Everett are forced to put aside their differences and find a way to bring three insane criminals to justice.

The Guard works first and foremost because of its characters. I’ve already extolled the virtues of Gerry Boyle—one of my favorite characters of 2011. And though Cheadle’s Wendell Everett is run-of-the-mill, the film’s villains (played by Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and…who else…Mark Strong) are fantastic. They debate philosophy and frequently have quote battles. Strong has next-to-no sense of humor, but his partners seem to appreciate Boyle’s off-kilter sensibilities. Their chemistry is interesting enough that the film could have focused on them and be just as successful. Ditto the sick and dying Mrs. Boyle (Fionnula Flanagan), a hard-drinking, tough lady with an affinity for Russian literature and a very amusing and sweet relationship with her son.

Beyond the interesting characters and their often surprising interactions, the film also excels at generating laugh-out-loud humor. There’s the odd villains, of course, but Boyle himself is just a barrel of laughs. He’s profane (as you might expect), but never in obvious ways. He spews profanity in a very Malcolm Tucker-esque way, I think, insomuch as you expect him to curse—a lot—but the way he does so is something of a surprise. Whatever the case, I was on my toes throughout the pleasantly short 90-minute run time, thanks to McDonagh’s crafty sense of humor.

In addition to giving the film its unusual tone, McDonagh also injects some real directorial flair into the proceedings. A lot of the editing choices struck me as purposeful and smart—like the way certain conversations feature very quick cuts while others feature a static camera. The Calexico-produced score, too, is among my favorites of the year.

I think you’ll find it hard to not enjoy yourself while watching The Guard. It’s just a supremely satisfying watch, and though the buddy-cop genre is generally unwelcome by yours truly, I found this interpretation of it incredibly pleasing.

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