The directorial feature debut of the very talented John Michael McDonagh, The Guard is also a film that gives Brendan Gleeson one of his best movie roles. In fact, between himself and his brother, Martin McDonagh, Gleeson has spent the better part of the last fifteen years in roles that help to solidify his place in the list of all-time great actors. He was already a strong contender, as evidenced by pretty much any role he's taken on throughout his career, but his work with the McDonagh brothers have elevated him to another level.
Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, an Irish policeman who spends his time getting through each work day with minimal effort. He's sharp though, no doubt about that, and also rarely bothered about the feelings of others. This causes some friction when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes to the area, on the trail of some serious drug smugglers. As Boyle and Everett work together on the case, the FBI man starts to realise that Boyle is hiding his talent and instincts behind a well-maintained wall of rudeness and derision.
It can be harder to review a film as good as The Guard, a film which could be discussed in nothing but a cavalcade of pleasant words and deserved compliments. Basically, don't think you're going to get anything here that's particularly eloquent or enlightening. I'll leave that kind of thing to people like the McDonagh brothers, who have given us some perfect scripts throughout their careers.
Although it feels like stating the bleeding obvious at this point, especially after my opening paragraph, Gleeson is great in the main role here. He gets to be at his grouchiest, but also delivers all of his dialogue with a twinkle in his eye, clueing viewers into the mischievous nature of his character that keeps others around him unbalanced. Cheadle works very well alongside him, trying to remain cool and professional while being occasionally flustered by what Gleeson blurts out. He also has some scenes on his own that mine humour from his "fish out of water" status on the isle. The supporting cast includes Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, David Pearse, Rory Keenan, and quite a few others, and everyone has fun in roles that they feel perfect for.
Maybe not as emotionally resonant (or emotionally devastating) as some of the other movies that have paired Gleeson up with a McDonagh brother, The Guard just serves as a reminder that you don't always need to fill the screen with pain and emotional manipulation to make great cinema. This is great cinema, easily on a par with 100 other films that people would offer up as a peak example of the artform, and it is also great entertainment from start to finish. A lot of that is down to the script, full of so much comedy gold and so many great characters that make it eminently rewatchable, but a big part of it is also down to the stellar work of Gleeson.
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