“The Guard” stars three of my favorite modern actors: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, and Mark Strong. Imagine my dismay, then, when the first six or seven minutes of the film left me uninspired by the initial actions of the odd character Gleeson plays. It’s only later that the reasoning behind them — and there is reasoning — becomes clear. By fifteen minutes in, the language and attitudes that are initially so appalling become funnier and funnier as we get to know Sergeant Gerry Boyle of the Garda, a.k.a. the police force of western Ireland.
“The Guard” is an odd mix of cops and drug traffickers, social drama, and a little family drama that cooks up to a hilarious and filling brew. It’s quirky, it’s crass, and it’s a blast.
|(c) 2011 Sony Pictures Classic|
The acting is just terrific throughout, so the best way to tell you a little something about the film is to tell you about the characters these wonderful actors play:
Brendan Gleeson as Sergeant Gerry Boyle uses his sad-sack face to hide all the emotions roiling inside, his humor and caustic comments a guard in themselves. Gleeson’s Boyle is an endearing everyman, tired, disappointed, but unswervingly honest — perhaps too much so for his own good. Don Cheadle as visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett does fine work as Gleeson’s straight man, shocked by the blatant racism and cynicism, yet alert enough to what lies beneath the surface to find some connection. He has some hilarious scenes with Gaelic speaking natives, and sweet scenes of doing what comes naturally in Ireland — drinking with Sergeant Boyle.
The trio of criminals, two Irish and one English, are sharp and stupid at the same time, international drug dealers, looking for an easy life, and failing miserably. Liam Cunningham plays the seeming leader, Francis Sheehy, who is snarky, funny, and thinks he’s smart. Cunningham gives a wonderfully sleazy performance. David Wilmot plays Liam O'Leary, who understands he’s a sociopath, not a psychopath, but can’t quite recall the difference. As the unwelcome Englishman of the team, Mark Strong is tough and witty as Clive Cornell, his distaste for his colleagues displayed by his acid comments. He is also, as usual, luscious. There’s terrific chemistry between these three, with a healthy mix of animosity and rapport.
There’s also a pair of call girls come to town for Sergeant Boyle’s rare day off, dressed as police women in a hooker kind of way. This Mutt and Jeff team are sassy and very funny. Dominique McElligott is charming and disarming as the tall blonde hooker, Aoife, in a witty visual contrast to Sarah Green, who is adorable as the smaller and softer Sinead.
Rory Keenan is intense and sincere as Garda Aidan McBride. He’s as appalled as I was at Sergeant Boyle’s cavalier attitudes toward police work. He’s right and wrong, smart and naïve. He's got the disadvantage, of course, of being a newbie in town -- a "foreigner" from Dublin.
Fionnula Flanagan’s Eileen. Boyle gives us our first intimate look at Gerry, showing his softer side. As Gerry's ailing mother, she reveals a relationship that makes us even more curious about him. Their scenes together are just delightful. As the wife of the rookie Garda Aidan McBride, Katarina Cas does deep quiet work. Her Gabriela McBride is sensitive and interesting, and we, along with Gerry, would like to know her better.
There are good cops and there are bad cops, and a totally realistic, seemingly inept, Garda Inspector Gerry Stanton is well played by Gary Lydon.
Quirky characters of the neighborhood include the town chronicler, a young man who shows up and photographs crime scenes and everything else. Laurence Kinlan is eager and enthusiastic as the photographer who appears to like gore, but also shows us that he knows the people of his town quite well. And of course, there’s a boy and his dog (and bicycle) who’s everywhere he oughtn’t be. Eugene Moloney is a cheeky child with very odd speech patterns, and is delightfully portrayed by Michael Og Lane.
John Michael McDonagh directed his own script, in which inconsequential bits and pieces eventually gel subtly into plot points. The criminal plot is interwoven with personal plots and attempts at relationships in a sadly amusing manner. In addition to the humor and human connections, he even throws in some gunplay and explosions exactly where they belong. There’s also a sweet scene between Cheadle and a white horse that made me think of “Into the West,” doubtless as intended. I like this movie quite a lot, and will keep an eye and ear out for other work by this McDonagh.
“The Guard” catches you off guard, goes where you don’t expect, and leaves you wondering — in a good way. Recommended at a theatre near you. It’s a limited release so far, but look out for it.
~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer but not the light. So much reading to do….