Brendan Gleeson is the kind of actor who always impresses without ever really hogging the limelight. He’s been described as a star character actor with credits including In Bruges and a handful of Harry Potter appearances. Now comes The Guard directed by John McDonagh whose brother manned the helm for In Bruges and Gleeson has a starring role that should cement his reputation.
Gleeson plays Sergeant Jerry Boyle, a very unorthodox garda in the west of Ireland whose canny understanding of human nature is offset by his many indulgent vices including popping acid, having a good time with cheery hookers and casual racism. He’s a rogue no doubt but don’t let that last sentence influence your opinion of the man, he’s no bigot, just contrary, a man who likes to shake things up, cynical and smart and damn funny.
Boyle’s foil (tee-hee) is FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) who is over from the states to nail a gang of drug traffickers and reluctantly teams up with the Irishman to track them down. There are moments between these two that suggest the film might be going for most clichéd of genres the mismatched cop buddy comedy but thankfully this isn’t such a simple affair as the two spend plenty of time apart. Cheadle’s disgruntled attempts to talk to locals prove a highlight while Boyle makes the most of a long planned day off. On the other side of things are the villains including Mark Strong’s tough Brit whose incredulity at bent coppers greatly amuses.
The story unfolds slowly and quietly as Boyle investigates a murder he’s convinced is linked to the traffickers whilst also detecting the fate of a new subordinate. Additionally we’re given a handful of touching scenes between the garda and his terminally ill mother in a sub story that might have seemed like shameless emotion baiting in less skilled hands. Instead we get some of the film’s most memorable moments as the well-realised relationship plays out with room for jokes and tears alike.
The film is at its best when giving us Boyle at his most outrageous and controversial, pay attention for his hilariously inflammatory query about drug dealers during a briefing and an excellent scene with a strangely cuddly IRA man. But the characters flaws are entirely forgivable when we see his softer such as his treatment of a distraught wife concerned for her missing husband or disposing of a dead joyriders stash to spare his mother’s despair. There’s little by way of action for the most part but the film is anything but dull, stuffed with quotable lines, quality performances and well-drawn characters but the biggest joy is undoubtedly Gleeson.
Often hilarious and frequently touching Brendan Gleeson heads a great cast in this superb comedy sure to find a passionate following. Cinema has a brilliant new anti-hero.