Irish crime capers tend to be few and far between, however this year we have been blessed with another film in the same vein as In Bruges, in the excellent dark comedy The Guard. From the brother of In Bruges director (Martin McDonagh), The Guard follows Brendan Gleeson, a member of the Irish police force (Garda) based out in the west of Ireland, Galway to be precise. Gleeson plays the maverick cop (the term is used loosely) and a man who has not been defined by the boundaries of his job. Far from being the stand up Garda, he is a man who attempts to get his fix anyway he can – drugs, whores and thrills. Despite his rural surroundings, Boyle manages to find this in abundance.
The story gets under way with a murder, with Boyle showing his brilliant CSI skills at work. The murder doesn’t push Boyle to do any kind of police work and instead humorous off-beat remarks follow in the wake of what would usually be considered a brutal crime. The real contrast comes when our hero is called for a meeting involving the FBI and cocaine smuggling into the port at Galway. Enter FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). Everett is shocked at the rather cavalier attitude that Boyle shows toward the $500million worth of cocaine entering Ireland but Boyle simply makes a few racist comments and attempts to find the actual street value of the cocaine. The buddy cop dynamic probably isn’t the right one to use when talking about The Guard, but it certainly is a new take on an old trick. Cheadle’s straight laced FBI agent finds it increasingly difficult to deal with Gleeson’s world-weary Garda and on numerous occasions must decipher the line between idiot and genius.
Let’s not forget that at the heart of the film there is comedy – dark comedy, but comedy nonetheless. As much based around Irish stereotypes as around Irish views, this film puts Gleeson in a role where he is free to show off his comedic timing and flair. Although at times you do feel there is too much crammed into one line, the overall film is a steady pace of sarcasm and political incorrectness. Whilst the film would find it very hard to seriously offend anyone, it is very much a humour that is based around British and Irish cinema rather than something you may find across the pond.
The villainous element of the film is also brilliantly portrayed by two Irish actors, Liam Cunningham and David Willmot, not to mention an appearance from Mark Strong, who, besides being in everything nowadays, plays the English henchman of the Irish drug barons very well. Contrasting other drugs films, the three main villains are ruthless, crazy and very up front about how the business works. Strong is particularly funny, especially when going crazy with a gun or moaning about the kind of people he has to deal with in the profession they have chosen.
The visual aspect of the film is very much as you would expect, it feels like a film from the British Isles. Coming from director John Michael McDonagh, a man who is primarily a writer and has shown little interest in directing, the film is an exploration of how cultures can clash and how drug land murders don’t always take place in Baltimore. The comedic value is both dark and provocative, with Gleeson frequently making jibes about race and how he ‘thought it was only black lads who dealt cocaine’. Far from being a comment on Irish thought or his own ignorance on these matters, it shows Gleeson to be a man highlighting these beliefs in other people. Gleeson’s character knows exactly what buttons to push to get a reaction and this is used to show his intelligence and his fortitude against Cheadle’s uber professional FBI agent.
The Guard is a film that is enjoyable and in many ways can be seen as a commentary on people’s beliefs and perceptions about certain aspects of life. It is also very provocative in the humour it uses, and the nonchalant attitude it takes to what are to be considered serious crimes. However it is in Gleeson’s anti-cop that we see its true genius, an uncompromising hero who not only provokes thought out of his friends and colleagues, but will no doubt go down in history as one of the strangest action cop heroes in cinematic history.