The Guard, the directorial debut of John Michael McDonagh is a foul-mouthed and violent comedy set in the west of Ireland, and provides a darkly unique take on the buddy cop formula.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is a slovenly, drunken, prostitute-using local policeman, whose quiet patch of windswept Galway is suddenly host to an enigmatic murder. As a larger conspiracy involving corrupt Garda, international drug barons and smuggled weapons becomes apparent, FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) is drafted in to brief the local forces. The two are forced into an uneasy partnership, with Everett shocked at the racist, ignorant and occasionally brilliant methods of Boyle as he stumbles around his patch, taking illegal drugs and murmering the worst of the Anglo-Saxon words as he goes.
The casting here is absolutely perfect, with Cheadle incredulous and intense as the super-cop out of his depth, and Mark Strong putting in a menacing turn as one of the drug barons. Every piece of casting, down to the two hookers Boyle shacks up with halfway through is great, but the show is stolen here by Gleeson. Belligerent, dry and with flawless comic delivery, we are treated to one of the best individual comedy performances in years – remaining believable and funny throughout whilst introducing well-timed notes of pathos, his is a truly memorable turn. Depending on how well the film fares on release, it may not even be too outrageous to tip Gleeson for an Oscar nod come next February. He really is that good.
Of course, the actors would not have been able to deliver without a great script, and McDonagh’s is glorious, wringing humour from the most macabre scenes without sacrificing any of their intensity. Told with a straight face, the comedy on offer is laugh-out-loud funny, but never detracts from the engaging arcs the characters inhabit. It is clear that the director shares the same sense of humour as his brother, In Bruges writer/director Martin.
If there is a single flaw here, it is that Cheadle’s character is a little underwritten, appearing to be mostly used to react to Gleeson’s more scene-stealing moments. This really is nitpicking though, and comes nowhere near taking the shine off what is an arresting on-screen chemistry between the two.
The Guard has enjoyed some very strong showings at festivals, and will hopefully gain the wide release it deserves. Audiences wanting to see an edgy comedy stripped of any sentimentality but which retains its heart should rush out and see The Guard as soon as possible, and bask in the excessive drug use, language and violence it manages to make funny. There has not been a better comedy film this year, and this sharp, dark and absorbing film really can not be recommended enough.