The Guard is Delightfully Twisted
A few years back, I decided to watch Martin McDonagh's feature debut In Bruges on demand without really knowing much about it. I was pretty impressed. Last night, again with little information, decided to go see his brother, John Michael McDonagh's, debut film The Guard. Again, I was impressed. These brother know what they're doing.
There's a sense, while you're watching The Guard, that you've seen this all before - the clever/funny criminals, the unlikely pairing of cops, the crass police man with a peculiar moral code - but rarely is it done this well and with the talent involved.
Brendan Gleeson is outstanding in the title role and a great part of what makes this film work. The plot of the film involves a supposed drug-smuggling ring operating in and around Sgt. Boyle's (Gleeson's) coastal, Irish town. This is what brings FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to the area. However, this aspect of the story could almost be called a sub-plot. The bad guys do some bad things and pop up every now and then, but the life of Sgt. Boyle is what the film focuses on primarily. His mother is dying, he enjoys the company of escorts, he's foul-mouthed with an offensive sense of humor, he takes drugs, drinks liberally, never married or had kids and might have, at one point, been an Olympic swimmer. These are the snap-shots we see of his life and they're infinitely more interesting than the crime aspect.
There's a lot of good humor in the film as well. I laughed often at the things Boyle would say in his exchanges with Everett and even harder at Everett's unamused reactions. As the straight-man, operating in a completely foreign land, Cheadle performs admirably, playing great opposite Gleeson's confident, savvy, wise-cracker. The three villains, played by Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot have some great interactions with each other and with Gleeson. As Gleeson stands over a dying Wilmot, chiding him as people often do to villains on film, Wilmot blurts "don't mock me!" in a pathetically humorous fashion that typifies the brand of comedy you'll find in The Guard.
The film is relatively action-less until the finale, but that's not a problem, especially considering that the conclusion - Sgt. Boyle's last stand - is pretty awesome. The credits sequence that follows, featuring John Denver's classic "Leaving on Jet Plane", is darn-near perfect as well.
Apart from everything I've mentioned above, the film looks great, embracing the dark, gray aesthetic of the area, giving it the semi-unpolished look of a 70's British crime thriller. However, as an American, I had a hard time understanding some of what was being said by the heavier-accented characters in the film, Gleeson included (Gleeson most of all actually). But that's not really something I can fault the film with though, I'm just saying that when I watch it on DVD, I'll take advantage of the captioning option.