The Guard


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Guard
"McDonagh takes what could be a hackneyed tale of mismatched buddy cops and spins it to blisteringly funny effect."

The success of John Michael McDonagh's directorial feature debut stems largely from the cunning exploitation of contrasts - from the characters, to the settings, to the bright blocks of colour that pepper his locations, he uses striking differences to mine deadpan humour from absurdist set-ups and surreal encounters. Expounding a similarly dry and blackly comic sense of humour to his brother Martin's In Bruges, The Guard also shares that film's trump card - Brendan Gleeson.

Here, he plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, the top police officer in a small town that threatens to make Father Ted's Craggy Island look like a metropolis. It's a job whose key aspect is boredom, and Gerry knows how to embrace it and is more concerned with the needs of his dying mum (a lovely pitched and emotionally rewarding turn from Fionnula Flanagan) than local crime. His hands-off, anti-establishment attitude is in stark contrast to his new partner Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan), who is aghast at his senior officer's laissez-faire attitude. But when Aidan goes missing soon after a murder, Gerry finds a little light policing may be in order after all... if only to keep newly arrived FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), who is trying to smash a drugs ring, off his back.

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When Gerry's attitudes are questioned, he deadpans: "I'm Irish - racism is part of my culture." But, it quickly becomes apparent that beneath his surface idiocy and glibness he's on the case. "I can't tell if you're really motherfucking dumb or really motherfucking smart," Wendell tells him - And this is the crux of the comedy. While McDonagh is gently mocking small-town attitudes on the one hand, he also subverts stereotypes and expectation by making his townsfolk incredibly well read. Gleeson plays Gerry as a man whose bungling is, you come to expect, much more for show than any real aspect of his personality. Similarly, McDonagh takes what could be a hackneyed tale of mismatched buddy cops and spins it to blisteringly funny effect.

Even the tired old cliches of criminals get a barbed makeover, as the drug runners here lament the lack of job satisfaction in what they do and spend their spare time discussing philosophy. McDonagh has a knack for dialogue and scene construction, knowing just how far to push a joke into absurdity while still keeping the situation believable on some level. Cinematographer Larry Smith (also DoP on Bronson), meanwhile, deserves plenty of credit for some terrific camerawork.

At once familiar and peculiarly askew, The Guard is a little gem with a lot of Blarney.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2011
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The Guard packshot
A small-town cop in Ireland finds himself drawn into an uneasy partnership with an FBI agent trying to smash a drug smuggling racket.
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Director: John Michael McDonagh

Writer: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Fionnula Flanagan

Year: 2011

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Ireland

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