Rated: R Reviewed by: Jim Release date: July 29, 2011 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
If you liked In Bruges (about a coupled of holed-up hit-men pondering life and death) this comedy-thriller from that director's equally able brother is your black cup of tea.
The Guard stars Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle and is set in small-town western Ireland - Connemara Gaeltacht to be precise, and like Martin, John Michael McDonagh knows how to craft a pungent, perky tale that knows how to deal with cop-movie conventions.
After successfully starring with a surprisingly creditable nervy Colin Farrell and a menacing Ralph Fiennes, a grand Gleeson rises at least to the level of the material in his savvy, prickly portrait of unorthodox Irish police officer Gerry Boyle.
A local murder is tied to an international cocaine smuggling ring using Connemara's harbor and Boyle grudgingly forms an alliance with Yale-bred skier FBI Agent Everett (a fine foil in Cheadle who's done this kind of character before for Steven Soderbergh).
McDonagh has the right recipe of emotion as humor and bloody violence simmer with insouciance and irony when these two very unlike lawmen are on the trail of cunning criminals as played by the likes of respected character actors like Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot.
The Guard revels in character tics and foibles with a loquacious levity well juxtaposed against the more somber, gritty proceedings. Gerry's volatility increases after his partner (Rory Keenan) goes missing having to deal with his young Croatian missus (Katarina Cas). And, his mum (Fionnula Flanagan) has a life-threatening illness.
Of course, there are nuances to the case as Gerry isn't as cold and unprofessional as you might think given his predilection to drugs and prostitutes. As choleric as he can be, a sweet candor surfaces amid a strong subversive and bigoted streak. As with Farrell, the fun here again is watching how Gerry and Everett tease and test one another throughout in dry, brusque repartees. You can tell Gleeson and Cheadle like how the script encourages the colorful capriciousness as they become sharp volleyers at it. Everett doesn't know what to make of his new partner given the look on his face.
A bit of absurdity is sprinkled into subtle insinuations at those looking for responses not easily elicited. Good diversity in the traffickers are provided with notably Cunningham more philosophical and Strong amusingly irascible. In actuality, the uneven storyline draws less attention than how the characters unfurl and reveal themselves. The bigger action-oriented set-pieces with a car wreck and guns blazing leaves enough "downtime" for the film's middle sections. More than Irish eyes will be smiling on this entertaining vinegary vibrant confection vividly lensed wrapping up in bright, taut fashion.