When I reviewed The Troll Hunter, I mistakenly identified it as the only foreign film I saw at Sundance 2011. I’m not sure how the very first film I saw that week slipped my mind, especially one so crude and darkly humorous, but it’s about time I reviewed it. Irish black comedy The Guard is an immersive character study with an underlying thriller plot line. Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Harry Potter Series) stars as unorthodox Sergeant Gerry Boyle. His offensive, lazy, and naïve façade make him an unlikely protagonist, but Gleeson’s performance lends this film its best attributes. The supporting cast assists him with a mixture of quirky and straight-man performances, making The Guard a colorful film despite an average plot.
Writer and director John Michael McDonagh opens the film with a screech and a bang, displaying right off the bat that Sergeant Gerry Boyle is the kind of man who is comfortable sleeping through his shift on street patrol. And, when a fatal car accident wakes him, he is not above lifting drugs off the victims for his personal use. This initial jolt of apathetic coolness, made cooler by an upbeat title sequence, segues into more serious matters when an officer calls Boyle to a crime scene. A young man has been murdered, and it appears a ritualistic serial killer is on the loose.
Quickly thereafter, button-down FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda, Crash) briefs Boyle and his fellow officers that the modus operandi of the purported serial killer is not what it seems. In actuality, drug traffickers have come to town, and they’ve come to murder and blackmail their way through their latest drug deal. This quaint Irish town and its inhabitants are unprepared for evil men to invade their lives. Outwardly honest citizens prove that there is a price for their loyalty, while Agent Everett realizes that the only man he can truly trust may be Sergeant Boyle.
Boyle may keep company with hookers, drink too much, and appear quite naïve, but he has a moral compass inside of him that other men lack. This intriguing fact deepens Boyle’s character and turns him into a person that can be pitied and respected. Boyle’s visits with his ailing, piss-and-vinegar mother humanize him dramatically. His pain and loneliness prove that, perhaps, he isn’t the man he says he is; he just has nothing better to do with his time other than put on this offensive act. Or, better yet, he uses this façade as a piece of his master plan to lure murderers, thieves, and drug traffickers into a false sense of security. Either way, he is ready and willing to stand up to the bad men now that they’ve come to town, and he’ll do it even if he’s all on his own.
With a few twists and turns, the story reaches its showdown end, but witnessing the various layers that make up our unlikely hero is the best part of this film. Gleeson plays Sergeant Boyle with such dry precision that he makes an otherwise lackluster plot appear unique. The Guard has enough laughs to merit a viewing, especially if you enjoy black humor. The film is reminiscent of In Bruges for its violence, wit, and use of Brendan Gleeson. So, if you enjoyed that one, this one is worth a viewing, as well.
The Guard is playing now in limited release.