The Guard review
To speak in stereotype for just a brief moment (as Sergeant Gerry Boyle does frequently in this overseas cop-flick), the Irish are the most intense group of people yet concocted. They are simultaneously vulgar, aggressive, pensive, loud, lazy, energetic, loving, self-abusive and fecking silly to no end. They are Europe’s redneck philosophers, drunken warrior poets that would make good representatives if we were trying to summarize all the various things it means to be human.
Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter, Gangs of New York, Braveheart… usually an epic type bastard) plays Boyle, a prototypical Irishman and Sergeant of small town police (or, “Guard”). Don Cheadle plays an American FBI agent tracking some big-time drug smugglers all the way from the states. When he and the sharp but massively unsophisticated Irishman are forced to spend some cop-time together, it’s definitely good for a couple of chuckles, as well as a lot of heart.
The villains are three cold-blooded smugglers played by Liam Cunningham (Clash of the Titans), Mark Strong (everything Guy Ritchie directed after Snatch) and a semi-breakout performance by David Wilmot, who plays the slightly comedic-yet-disturbed sociopath of the gang.
If you’re thinking this is trying to be an Irish version of Hot Fuzz, don’t count on it. Despite the crime and cop-oriented plot and big-fish out-of-water in small-town-pond, it’s thematically closer to Waking Ned Divine. It’s a glorification of the Irish spirit with philosophical undertones that are disappointingly thinly fleshed.
In the end, it’s hard to tell if this movie is really good or just really cute. The buddy/cop element is (thankfully) handled with taste and never gets saccharine. The side-plot about Boyle’s ailing mother is more a cul-de-sac than an avenue, but for all the less-than-thoroughly explored sub-themes, one has to stop and admire the amount of entertainment crammed into a lean hour and a half. It’s refreshing to to get an ethnic fish-out-of-water buddy/cop flick that doesn’t beat you over the head with Irish countrysides, endless pub-going, cheesy predictable dialog, or anything else we cliché-sick entertainment consumers have trouble tolerating. This film treats you like an adult. An adult who can still have silly inappropriate fun while still fighting for what’s right.
Let’s go with “really cute,” because it’s funny but not hilarious, serious but never heavy. It doesn’t over-commit on anything, and therefore takes very little risk. It’s really not a must-see, but it’s a safe pick, especially for die-hard Gaelophiles.