So, it turns out that the funniest thing you’ve ever seen is an Irish police sergeant flicking the toe of a corpse in the morgue and then smelling his finger. That phrase “I died laughing” was practically made literal as I leaned over in my theater seat, choking down my uncontrollable glee. The Guard was full of moments like this, each one funnier than the last (although that finger smelling really killed me) ending in an explosion of action and overall good taste.
Brendan Gleeson is at his best here, playing Gerry Boyle, a quirky, but brilliant cop in a small Irish town. His bookshelves decorated with Penguin classics, it seems that Sergeant Boyle’s favorite pastimes include f*****g with people and not taking life too seriously. This becomes a bit of a problem when drug smugglers invade his town, murdering and bribing along the way. Boyle is suddenly presented with all kinds of dire consequences, and never fails to face them with bravado.
Gleeson and Don Cheadle, playing straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett, play off each other perfectly, reforming the buddy cop film into something much more interesting. Both seasoned actors manage to use character types of a typical genre picture (the straight man vs. the wild card) and flesh them out, leading them end up with eccentricities that fascinate and draw you into their world. Director John Michael McDonagh, brother to In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, fully explores the nature of these characters and lets them shine in the quieter, introspective moments of the film.
The action portions of the film are where In Bruges succeeds and The Guard stumbles. The cinematographic style and slow long shots don’t quite work when our two heroes start blasting machine guns at drug dealers, and despite the catchy flamenco pop underscoring the scene Tarantino-style it didn’t excite me the way the funny bits did.
In the end, I think Wendell Everett sums up the tone of the film well: “I can’t tell if you’re really mother f*****g dumb or really mother f*****g smart.” Rest assured, the answer is the latter.