Sometimes it’s good to start a review with a quoted line of dialogue. This intrigues and hooks in a reader, wanting to know more context. Sadly, one of the more memorable scenes in The Guard – in which Brendon Gleeson plays a vice-laden but effective Garda officer – has the sort of language best not repeated in print. Just take away the point that drug dealers can be Irish too…
What Is The Guard About?
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges and Banshees of Inisherin director Martin McDonagh), The Guard is a black comedy in which irascible Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) forms an unlikely partnership with FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) in order to stop a suspected major drug deal from taking place off the shore of west Ireland.
Gleeson’s acerbic character stands front and centre of The Guard to hilarious effect. He drinks and does drugs whilst on duty (rather unashamedly) while exuding a general air of a man who has filled his niche in life and sees no reason why not to fill it with pleasures.
Even though a ritualistic seeming murder doesn’t quite fit into that, his disparaging dismissal of a Dublin based rookie’s opinions smacks of a disguised intelligence also at play.
A scattering of ‘golden heart’ scenes also ensure he rounds out beyond simple jerk tendencies.
The presence of Cheadle stops The Guard from playing to an exclusively parochial audience.
There are the obvious fish-out-of-water gags that revolve around a slick American in rural Ireland (“This is Ireland. Go over to England if you want to speak English”, growls a resident in Gaelic to a bemused Everett) but the relationship his character forms with Boyle has a uniquely antagonistic bent that showcases great comedic writing.
The Guard Official Trailer
Is The Guard Worth Watching?
The Guard backs up its verbal chops with plenty of eye-catching style. Many shots are framed which are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style with bold colours and definitive points of focus.
As a result the interior scenes feel like slightly elevated reality, as contrasted by the grey palette outside that draws attention to the Connemara district’s rural outpost setting.
McDonagh wisely gives just as much personality to his antagonists who consist of a weary no-nonsense English geezer (Mark Strong), an under the thumb torturer (David Wilmot) and workmanlike mobster (Liam Cunningham).
Cunningham delivers a twinkle of charm into his efficient criminality and scenes involving these three sparkle with dangerous wit. That their usual techniques prove so ineffectual against the bull-headed Boyle is even more of a delight.
On release The Guard became the most successful Irish independent film to date taking in both box office and accolades. With a winning combination of memorable characters, voraciously tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and distinctive visuals it is easy to see why.
McDonagh closes off all the events with an enjoyable action sequence fitting to the established tone – considering automatic weapons and the coast of Ireland are not common bedfellows.
Gleeson has had a superb run of movies of late. The Guard is no exception and made all the better by Cheadle’s disarmingly effective straight man.
“I can’t tell if you are really ***** dumb or really ***** smart” puffs Everett at his erstwhile partner’s latest needling observation.
There isn’t any doubt that when it comes to McDonagh’s movie, the answer lies in the latter.
Words by Mike Record