Brendan Gleeson is a great actor who mostly has been content to show his stuff in supporting roles.
The Guard won’t change that, but it should.
This terrific first-time feature from writer/director John Michael McDonagh finds Gleeson dominating every second he’s on screen in a role tailor-made for his imposing physical presence and bullish personality.
The movie is a crime saga, a buddy flick, a black comedy...but most of all it’s a terrific character study of a guy we’re not sure we like, but who grabs our attention and won’t let go.
Gleeson is Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a member of the Guardia (Ireland’s national police force) stationed on the west coast near Galway.
Boyle is fat, cynical and sarcastic...at first glance he might be the Hibernian equivalent of a redneck Southern sheriff.
A bit of a lazy slob, he’s none too thrilled to be working the region’s first murder case in a decade...especially when it dovetails with a joint operation between the Guardia and the Yanks to seize a boat full of South American cocaine expected to land somewhere along the coast.
The Americans have sent over FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to mount an intercept operation; he and Boyle immediately are at odds.
Everett is a stickler for protocol who’s concerned both by Boyle’s lackadaisical approach (the Irishman refuses to work on his day off because he’s got a couple of call girls from the city coming for a visit) and the blatantly racist questions Boyle asks under the guise of innocently trying to understand the lives of black people in the U.S.
Their salt-and-pepper comedy pairing is nicely balanced by the scenes with the bad guys, three drug traffickers who are as sophisticated as they are lethal.
Sheehy (Liam Cunningham), Cornell (Mark Strong) and O’Leary (David Wilmot) spend their time driving around the region looking for likely spots to unload the drugs, all the while delivering scintillating dialogue. For crooks they’re a very literary, erudite bunch. When they’re not killing somebody, it’s a pleasure to hear them palaver.
The Guard is a nifty exercise in narrative sleight of hand. Boyle is such an indifferent lawman we wonder if he’s not in cahoots with the bad guys. Actually, he may be the only honest flatfoot in sight.
The investigation leads inexorably to a massive shootout in which our mismatched and outmanned heroes must take on the villains, and it’s a testament to just how enjoyable this movie is that we wish it could go on just a little longer.
And at the center there’s Gleeson. He gives the film heart, soul and a gloriously bad attitude.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.