Sony // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 22nd, 2011
A comedic, fish-out-of-water tale of murder, blackmail, drug trafficking and rural police corruption.
"Like the fat man said, if you have to be careful not to drink too much, it's because you're not to be trusted when you do."
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is an Irish policeman who has little regard for the rules and regulations of his profession. He drinks heavily, indulges in drugs of all sorts, plants evidence, spends much of his free time with prostitutes, has a remarkable lack of sensitivity when dealing with others and generally behaves badly a great deal of the time. As such, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, Traitor) isn't exactly enthusiastic about the notion of working together with Boyle to crack down on a trio of drug smugglers (Liam Cunningham, Dog Soldiers, David Wilmot, King Arthur and Mark Strong, Kick-Ass). In fact, Everett initially seems rather eager to shove Boyle to the side and work on his own, but Boyle continually proves irritatingly useful. Will these unlikely partners be able to work together to take down the bad guys?
The Guard is a buddy cop movie that reminds us of why the genre has maintained such enduring popularity. When the formula is handled correctly (that is to say, in a manner which isn't too formulaic and which allows the characters to be distinctive, believable individuals), it can be a whole lot of fun. This is a movie worthy of the standard set by Midnight Run, 48 Hrs., and Lethal Weapon, and it just might have more laughs than all of them.
However, early on you're more likely to be reminded of the 2008 flick In Bruges than any of the aforementioned films. There's a reason for that: The Guard was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh (who produced this film). The movies are strikingly similar in their distinctive sense of place, in their use of entertaining villains obsessed with the sort of minutiae other movies gloss over, in their frequently profane and politically incorrect dialogue, in their giddily entertaining sense of humor and in their spectacular use of Brendan Gleeson. To be sure, In Bruges is ultimately a film with greater depth and resonance (as it's a film with greater depth and resonance than most movies of the past decade), but if you loved that film, odds are you'll really like this one.
Initially, it seems as if Boyle is Ireland's own personal Bad Lieutenant, but we quickly realize that he's really not such a bad guy. Gleeson's performance is so cheerful that we like him in spite of his seemingly endless flaws, and we forgive his racist remarks because we realize that either A) he's so insulated that he doesn't really understand that what he's saying is racist ("I thought black people couldn't ski. Or is that swimming?") or B) he doesn't really mean it and is only using such remarks to get a rise out of his easily-exasperated American partner. "I don't know if you're really #%&@*!* smart or really #$%^&*! stupid," Everett sighs. The movie does a nice job of playing with that notion, as it constantly keeps us guessing as to whether Boyle is masterfully conducting his own little devious symphony or whether he's just a big, shaggy, scoundrel who keeps stumbling into good luck.
Gleeson once again reveals himself to be a splendid comic actor, delivering blisteringly funny lines in that distinctively innocent way that he does. His presence overwhelms the film to a certain extent, but the supporting players are fantastic across the board, and I mean all the way across. Cheadle's very effective in the straight man role, generating quieter laughs with his furrowed brow and weary eyes as he attempts to put up with Boyle's shenanigans. Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and David Wilmot are clearly having a blast as the amusingly petty drug mules, debating over who has to carry bodies and which sort of pretentious literary references would most effectively obscure their true intentions. Fionulla Flanagan has a handful of nice scenes as Boyle's sweetly foul-mouthed mother (I realize that the description makes the character sound like a terrible cliché, but Flanagan makes her believable). Even the bit players are terrific: the sweet-natured prostitutes Boyle hires, the unhelpful locals, the horse Everett interrogates and so on.
The Guard (Blu-ray) sports a modestly satisfying 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer. On the plus side, colors are bright and have a lot of pop, blacks are impressively deep and the level of detail is strong when it needs to be. Even so, the image does look a bit soft much of the time, and this doesn't seem to be due to artistic decisions made by McDonagh. It looks good, but it's not going to dazzle you. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly adequate, with clean dialogue and an energetic score courtesy of Calexico which gives the film an enjoyably unexpected western vibe (there's nothing remotely Irish about the original score, though more traditional Irish music appears as source music from time to time). The shootout sequences don't really have as much punch as you might expect, and dialogue echoes to a distracting degree during one early interrogation scene. Supplements include a fun commentary with McDonagh, Gleeson and Cheadle, a solid "Making of The Guard" featurette (20 minutes), a 20-minute Q&A with Gleeson, Cheadle and McDonagh, a short film by McDonagh called "The Second Death" (starring Gleeson and serving as a starting point for The Guard), deleted/extended/alternate scenes, outtakes and a trailer. Overall, a pretty satisfying mix of content.
Much like Boyle, The Guard is a film with a playfully devious twinkle in its eye. It flirts with digging into weightier territory on occasion, but it's more playful than thoughtful. The Irish atmosphere and the crackling screenplay (at least in terms of dialogue; the plot ambles along at its own peculiar pace) are splendid, the performances are fantastic and McDonagh's stylish, confident direction represents one of the more exceptional debuts of recent times.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Short Film
* Official Site