Brendan Gleeson (brilliant as always) is Sergeant Gerry Boyle, the drug-taking, whoring Garda in a sleepy West of Ireland town. When the FBI visits, in the form of Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle doing great stuff with the straight man role), the two team up to take down a trio of drug smuggling gangsters (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot).
There are sudden bursts of violence, blackly comic moments, casual racist-tinged dialogue, and a myriad of pop culture references. The scenario is one you’ve seen a thousand times, but you maybe haven’t seen it an Irish setting.
Like many a comedy crime caper these days, there are plenty of Tarantino-esque moments, with whip-smart dialogue – the gangsters discussing their favourite philosophers is a standout – but as in his brother’s work, McDonagh has a somewhat bleak sensibility. Although there is much in the way of silliness, the film has a sombre tone when it comes to Boyle’s dying mother (played by the wonderful veteran actress Fionnuala Flanagan).
Much of the film’s energy comes from the exchanges between Gleeson and Cheadle. There’s a great scene where Everett is talking about his children and reaches for his wallet to show Boyle a picture.
Boyle: Don’t want to see it.
Everett: [agent seems confused] Excuse me?
Boyle: [straight faced copper explains] I don’t want to see it. Babies all look the same. The only time a baby doesn’t look like every other baby is when it’s a really ugly baby. So unless you’re about to show me a photo of a really ugly baby then I don’t want to see it.
Everett: That’s pretty fucking rude.
Boyle: Maybe it is maybe it isn’t.
The film is structured like a Western (there’s going to be a showdown with the baddies, and only the Sheriff can stop them) and to that end it has a great Ennio Morricone pastiche score by Calexico. Along the way, there are a few bloody murders, a couple of prostitutes, some boozing, IRA gun-runners, and enough imaginative cursing to please anyone (if you think the f-bombs are there for artistic reasons, you’ve never been to Ireland).
Not all of it works, though; I think the final showdown is rushed and somewhat disappointing given the film’s lead-up to it, and the subplot involving the widow of a slain Garda could have been developed more, or perhaps should have been dropped.
All that said, however, I highly recommend The Guard. It is a very funny, and at times somewhat sad movie, anchored by Gleeson, hinting at what was to come in his next collaboration with McDonagh. It was McDonagh’s debut as a feature director. He followed it up with the remarkable Calvary (with Gleeson again and many of The Guard’s cast). I’ll be reviewing Calvary at the weekend as part of the Begorrathon.