Have you seen The Guard yet? If you haven’t, you need to. This deceptively simple (and violent) Irish film is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s also one of my personal favorites.
Boyle (played by the great Brendan Gleeson) is a casually corrupt but well-meaning Irish policeman who appears to have settled into a life of quiet complacency. He spends his time caring for his aging mother, bragging (and perhaps lying) about his past career as a competitive swimmer, entertaining prostitutes, and taking the occasional acid trip. As there’s little real crime taking place in the small coastal village that he calls home, Boyle is free to spend his workday playing video games and ignoring his far more serious partner, a rookie named McBride (played by Rory Keenan). McBride is married to a mail order bride and, beneath his straight-laced exterior, has a secret of his own. Things start to pick up for Boyle and McBride when an unidentified man is brutally murdered in a manner that suggests he fell victim to Satanists. Meanwhile, cocky FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) is in the village, searching for three viscous drug smugglers (played by Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot). Despite Wendell’s condescending attitude and Boyle’s own casual racism, the two of them soon discover that their two cases are connected and that there’s more to Boyle than originally meets the eyes…
In almost every way, The Guard is a triumph. Director John Michael McDonagh (whose brother Martin directed Gleeson in In Bruges) finds a perfect balance between comedy and tension and manages to maintain it throughout the entire film. McDonagh has a wonderful eye for detail and the entire film is full of memorable characters who are quirky without ever being silly. Though the villains (and their ultimate evil scheme) will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen an action film, Cunningham, Strong, and Wilmot are all believably ruthless and intimidating. Don Cheadle is perfectly cast as the straight-laced Wendell and the film has a lot of fun with his “fish-out-of-water” attempts to bring American justice to the Irish coast.
However, ultimately, this film is all about Brendan Gleeson. For decades, Gleeson has been one of the most dependable character actors in the movies. Whether he was playing a villain or a hero and regardless of the size of his role, Gleeson has always made an impression and he’s always left filmgoers like me wanting to see more of him. Well, in The Guard, Gleeson gets to show us exactly what he can do and the result is one of the best performances of the year. Whether he’s greeting a prostitute in an immaculate three-piece suit or having a secret meeting with the local representative of the IRA, Gleeson dominates the entire film and, most importantly, keeps us guessing about just who Boyle is. Gleeson triumphs in The Guard and the end result is one of the best films of 2011.