Fifty-six-year-old Irish actor Brendan Gleeson has built up a strong career playing character roles in the Harry Potter films, Gangs of New York, 28 Days Later, and a wide variety of other pictures. He didn’t start acting until his mid-30s, so this success is even more impressive.
He’s also taken on several lead parts, include John Boorman’s The General and Martin McDonagh’s recent In Bruges. These performances, especially the latter, prepared him perfectly to play Sergeant Gerry Boyle in The Guard. This unconventional Irish cop takes guff from no one and doesn’t always abide by the law. His crimes are basically harmless; he consorts with prostitutes and takes a hit of acid off a dead body. Right from the start, it’s clear this isn’t your typical straight-arrow police officer.
Against his own wishes, Boyle gets entangled in a murder mystery that morphs into a very lucrative drug bust. Working with FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), he begrudgingly keeps stepping further into the case. Boyle’s entire approach is designed to put others on the defensive and see what they’ll do. He’s not a great guy, but it’s this same attitude that keeps him from taking bribes from the bad guys. Even well-meaning cops may find the cash too good to pass up.
Boyle never thinks that far ahead, which makes him an unpredictable adversary for the drug dealers. Unlikely allies with much-different styles, Boyle and Everett develop a bond as the only guys left to make the final stand-off and stop the deal.
The Guard is the debut feature for Writer/Director John Michael McDonough, whose brother Martin directed In Bruges. The story crosses multiple genres and isn’t the standard black comedy you might expect. It’s more of a character study on Boyle, who’s both a sad and over-the-top individual. The highlight is the sharp writing, which snaps with biting wit and effectively incorporates all types of references to other material. This approach falls apart without a great actor to deliver the lines, and Gleeson is the perfect choice to sell the character.
Cheadle’s an excellent straight-arrow counterpoint who recognizes a gem within the idiot cops. The two actors have good chemistry that works because they share limited screen time. Boyle is the focus, and the unpredictable plot meanders around before it reaches the action-packed finalé.
Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, this film doesn’t overstay its welcome and delivers a brisk crime story. Colorful villains like Mark Strong’s (Sherlock Holmes) Clive Cornell are more effective because they make limited appearances. Nothing feels too ambitious or heavy-handed in this plot, even the major drug shipment. Boyle doesn’t face a case like this very often, yet it doesn’t seem to change his demeanor. The limited ambition makes the story feel a little slight, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of big-budget thrillers out there to pick up the slack for this clever gem.
This DVD includes a solid collection of extra features that aren’t that insightful but provide interesting material. A prime example is the commentary from McDonagh, Gleeson, and Cheadle. They obviously enjoy hanging out and share some good laughs, but the information isn’t earth-shattering.
This trio also appears for a Q&A at the LA Film Fest after that screening. The technical aspects aren’t great during this 18-minute feature, especially with the audience questions. The topics are the basic ones you might expect in this setting, but there are a few enjoyable answers. “The Making of the Guard” also runs 18 minutes and provides cast interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage.
Along with deleted scenes, the other worthwhile extra is The Second Death, a short film from 2000 by McDonagh that includes some of the same characters. Keep an eye out for Aidan Gillen from The Wire as Pool Player 1 in a few scenes.
The Guard is mostly about the two leads, but there are a few notable female performances that deserve a mention. The first is Fionnula Flanagan as Boyle’s mother Eileen, and their sweet relationship shows a different side of his character. She’s dying of cancer, and her condition is a rare situation that might affect his worldview.
The other interesting role is the striking Katarina Cas as Gabriela, the wife of a deceased cop who worked with Boyle. Although a romance seems unlikely, they share a connection because he treats her with respect. His different manner with her adds an extra layer to an already complicated character. Gleeson never misses a beat, and his success lifts the film to a higher level.