Review: The Guard (2011)

Director: John Michael McDonagh


There are many Irish clichés to be found in The Guard; however, they are not of the obvious leprechauns n’ shamrocks variety. The Guard casually mocks perceived Irish casual racism, the apparent national inferiority complex and their casual-bordering-on-lackadaisical approach to work specifically and life in general. Despite all this, The Guard is a dream for Irish tourism as it’s filled with genuine warmth, uncompromising Irish wit, and gut-busting hilarity.

The discovery of a murder victim is less of a challenge to Connemara’s best, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), and more of an inconvenience. How is a man supposed to engage in his day-to-day routine with such interruptions? That routine usually involves checking on local troublemakers, visiting his ill mother (Fionnula Flanagan) and occasional dalliances with good time girls brought down from ‘the big shmoke’ of Dublin. When FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) flies over from the States to investigate a drug cartel, Boyle wonders whether or not this is all connected to the murder, and to the disappearance of his new partner (Rory Keenan). Still, a ‘mug o’ tae’ and a bit of ‘hooring around’ later can always fix things. Boyle is a no-nonsense and unconventional kind of police officer. He’ll deal with small-time crooks if it means nailing the bigger baddies. As one can imagine, this grates with the clean professionalism of the FBI’s finest, and scenes between Gleeson and Cheadle buzz with chemistry. Gleeson completely inhabits the character and steals the show by mixing casual innocence (“I thought only black lads were drug-dealers. And Mexicans.”) and down-to-earth toughness. The bad guys (lead by Liam Cunningham’s Sheehy-Skeffington) are a nicely barmy bunch. Is it too much of a cliché for an Irish movie to have one of them be English? It’s certainly a cliché for him to be played by Mark Strong, but he excels nonetheless.

The Guard is the brainchild of writer/director John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges’ writer/director Martin). There’s a confidence to the wit and satire here that indicates a bright future ahead for this particular talent. It’d be too easy to portray the Irish as diddly-aye spouting simpletons, but there’s nary a cheap gag to be found here. The humour comes purely from Boyle’s simplistic and boorish nature, and is often of the gallows variety. The culture clash angle may have been done before, but never with such a distinctly Irish flavour. However,The Guard remains readily accessible, a hilarious blend of comedy, pathos and charm. And not a shamrock in sight!


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