Film Review – The Guard

The humor of The Guard is with its characters and strong script, making it a memorable comedy in a summer of the average slapstick. In a small Irish town, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) works as a guard, a local police officer and somewhat unconventional cop, to put it mildly. He has admitted to taking drugs and values his own time off over the job. This is exasperating for FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). Everett is the straight man to Boyle and the entire Irish cast. He is there to investigate a drug smuggling ring which includes the cranky British mobster Clive Cornell (Mark Strong) and is supposed to be making a deal happen somewhere on the Irish coast.

From the start, it is clear that Brendan Gleeson is the movie. All the action revolves around his antics and dialogue. He is played up as being quite ignorant of many racial concepts and making comments that shows he doesn’t care what people think of him. It makes him sound like a bad person, but that is not the whole story. He is simply who he is, and he is comfortable with that. He is dealing with his mother, Elieen Boyle (Fionnula Flanagan), who is dying and shows us exactly where Gerry Boyle gets his straight talk from. There are some touching moments between the two of them just talking. Besides that, Gerry Boyle does his jobs to the best of his abilities; he plays loose with the law, but the film never shows him to be corrupt. He defies characterization because there are too many inconsistencies within the character, yet they fit the character. We buy this because Boyle is so out there, and that is what makes him so funny, because we can believe he would say the most offensive and off-kilter things.

It is not just Gleeson; every character is shown having an odd quirk or two. This includes a young boy who seems to know all that is going on in the town and a young man who takes pictures of events dealing with crime, including dead bodies. Even the drug dealers get into the action by debating philosophy, and Strong bemoans how easily they can bribe their way to get drugs into the country. We are given just enough time with the characters to see the oddities that define them and we are never overdosed by it and never get tired of them. It isn’t just the characters; the film does a great job of being self-deprecating towards the Irish people. Numerous times the small town people speak of the horrors of the people of Dublin. This is the best job I have seen a movie do making fun of its home country without being mean-spirited.

Unlike in most buddy cop films with their mismatched partners, Everett and Boyle do not have that much time together. Everett interacts with boyle more at the bar than he does on the case. We than avoid the clich├ęs of the two learning from each other about how together they can be better. Both are good cops, but in different ways, and both make mistakes. Being the straight man, Cheadle doesn’t get to shine as often, but he gets to show off some great looks of exasperation at the comments from the Irish policemen, especially during a discussion about mob liquidation.

As humorous and out there as the film is, the one subject it takes very seriously is death. Death is not just a random thing that happens. When we see characters die, we see people react to the death and mourn; this adds humanity to the characters. The form the mourning takes goes from conventional to those that carry it inside them, but it is still affecting them. No, this is not overplayed or made to make the movie depressing, but it is there to ground it in a type of reality so we can take those actions seriously even if comedic dialogue is ongoing.

This is a funny movie that will make you laugh out loud. You can have a great time and not just call it a guilty pleasure. Comedies that have really good characters, strong dialogue, and aren’t afraid to be grounded in some kind of reality make for better films; they are not dependent on physical comedy and gross-out humor. They can use it occasionally, but it is in conjunction with the character, which makes the action mean more and the humor stronger, and it doesn’t feel lazy and repetitive. Here, we are thrown line upon line that we do not see coming, with strong pacing and the ability to bounce the dark moments off the light moments in such a way as to be memorable and funny. This style was used to great effect by writer/director Martin McDonagh for his movie In Bruges, and he is the brother of the writer/director of this film, John Michael McDonagh. They have a style of their own and I cannot wait to see what they will do next, and if you know what kind of comedy you are getting into before you go into the film you will not be disappointed.

Final Grade: A-

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Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

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