Review: The Guard (Sundance)
PLOT: Sergeant Gerry O'Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a small-town Irish cop, that, in the words of FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) “is either really motherf***ing dumb, or really motherf***ing smart”. He's partnered with Everett after stumbling upon a murder with connections to a local drug smuggling operation, headed by Francis Sheehy (Liam Cunningham), and his two psychotic henchmen, Clive (Mark Strong), and Liam (David Wilmot). REVIEW: THE GUARD is a jaunty Irish cops n'robbers romp tailor-made for it's leading man; Brendan Gleeson. A popular character actor, THE GUARD makes the strongest case for Gleeson as an unconventional leading man since THE GENERAL. In many ways, THE GUARD feels a bit like Gleeson's character from IN BRUGES spun off into his own star-vehicle, although instead of a hit-man, he's a cop. The IN BRUGES similarity shouldn't come as too much a surprise, as director John Michael McDonagh happens to be the brother of Martin McDonagh, who directed that shockingly underrated mini-masterpiece.
Gleeson's characters from both films share the same, unbelievably rude sense of humour, with his first question to the blue-blooded Cheadle being whether or not he grew up “in the projects”. Shockingly ignorant, but always lovable, O'Boyle is one of the finest unconventional comedic creations I've seen since Pierce Brosnan played Julian Noble in THE MATADOR (one of my favourite flicks). He enjoys casual drug use, the occasional hooker (or two), trips to Disney World (Goofy is his favourite) and really flashy pinstripe suits, when not lounging around in his velvet house-robe, or underwear. Despite his ignorant, lazy exterior, we never doubt that O'Boyle's a fine cop, and once his town starts getting overrun with mobsters, Everett recognizes that the incorruptible O'Boyle's the only one he can trust, leading to the classic mis-matched buddy-cop dynamic (which is irreverently addressed when one of the locals suggests their partnership would make a good action flick).
Cheadle seems to be having the time of his life playing opposite Gleeson. Their chemistry is terrific, and Cheadle perfectly captures the Ivy-League, somewhat blue-blooded aspects of his character. That said, this is Gleeson's film all the way. The feature directorial debut of John Michael McDonagh (who also wrote the wonderfully profane script, which has the most f-bombs dropped since IN THE LOOP), THE GUARD is slick without ever being too derivative, and between this and is brother's work, the McDonagh family is one to watch. The film is stylishly put together, gorgeously shot on location, and cut to perfection, with this running a lean and mean ninety minutes- without ever feeling rushed. Watching this, you'd never guess it was a first feature.
THE GUARD also features a particularly colourful supporting cast, headed by the ever-present Mark Strong, as one of the drug-dealing baddies. Strong's part is actually smaller than I thought it would be, as he really just plays the classic henchman figure. More time is spent on his boss, the philosophy- loving mastermind played by Liam Cunningham. While murderous, Cunningham remains a somewhat likable guy, with him being very reminiscent of Ralph Fiennes' underworld boss from IN BRUGES. I know, I know- another IN BRUGES reference. I suppose if THE GUARD has any faults, it's that at time it feels a little too much like IN BRUGES, but this really wasn't a problem for me. I loved that film so much, I welcome the opportunity to enjoy another film like it; although THE GUARD is lighter on the tragedy, and heavier on the comedy than that film. This might make it a little less profound, but it makes for a really grand time at the cinema.
Given the rapturous reaction it received from the press crowd I saw it with; complete with a hearty round of applause when Gleeson`s credit came up at the end, I have a feeling THE GUARD will manage to land a pretty high-profile distributor by the end of the fest. Depending on what the rest of the year is like, one might even consider Gleeson as a possible best actor candidate come Oscar time next year. Award-nominee or not, Gleeson`s a treasure in this, and I highly recommend checking it out. Originally I intended to give this an eight, but damn if I didn't have more fun watching it than anything I've seen in a long time. If that doesn't deserve a near-perfect score, I don't know what does.