4 stars (out of 5)
Sergeant Gerry Boyle's newest officer is missing and Boyle is talking to the man's wife. The forlorn woman states, "I do not believe that Aidan committed suicide." "Neither do I, to be honest," Boyle says flatly. "He didn't seem intelligent enough."
The Guard was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of playwright, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). Lots of talent in the McDonagh family. The film, a quirky mismatched cop story set in Ireland, is smart as all get out and packed with interesting personalities. It's funny and melancholy and it stars Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, two of the best actors in the world.
Rich characters, caustic humor, emotion without a whiff of sentimentality, all of it set in the unassuming beauty of a small Irish village. Oh the colors, the sights and the camerawork. One shot starts by showing a little boy standing in the middle of a muddy one-lane country road. The camera begins a smooth 360 degree turn - 180 degrees through we see a police car driving towards the kid. When the image comes full circle, we see that the camera eye has drawn closer to the boy. It's a dandy shot. Quietly flashy, which is what The Guard is all about. For verification, take a listen to Calexico's spaghetti western-inspired guitar and trumpet-based score.
John Michael McDonagh wants to impress you almost as much as he wants to entertain you. There are moments where you can feel him trying too hard - I mean, international drug dealers debating Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell seems a bit much, but damned if it doesn't work. Better yet, it sets up a fine throwaway moment later when one of the criminals asks why he's always selected to be the executioner for the group. "Because you're a psychopath," one of his cohorts explains. "No I'm not," he answers, annoyed and a little hurt. "I'm a sociopath!"
No more quotes, you get the idea. The focus of the film is on Brendan Gleeson, who is as good as he's ever been as Sergeant Boyle - foul-mouthed hedonist, skilled police officer, devoted son, and accomplished irritant. He has a fine time bothering FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle), casually making outrageous racist remarks and then claiming he is merely busting his new colleague's balls.
Don Cheadle plays straight man most the time, and does so flawlessly. Cheadle finds a few moments to fool around - an alcohol-fueled conversation here, an exhausted interview with a horse there - but he primarily remains the steadying influence that allows the deadpan nuttiness around him to seem credible.
Fair warning - the Irish accents are thick. Thick. I strained to understand what was being said by a number of characters - hell, there was a whole subplot I didn't catch until the second time I watched the film. But honest to God, it doesn't matter. Not that much, anyway. Even with the stuff you miss, there's more than enough to guarantee an exceptional time for anybody who doesn't mind hearing variations of the word "fuck" a few hundred times. Even better, after sitting in the theater and enjoying the parts of The Guard you can figure out, you can flip on the subtitles when the DVD comes out in a few months and savor all that you missed on the first go-round.