Reviews

This Isn’t Your Typical Straight-Arrow Police Officer: 'The Guard'

Brendan Gleeson never misses a beat as Sergeant Gerry Boyle, and his success lifts this clever film to a higher level.


The Guard

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, and David Wilmot
Rated: R
Studio: Sony
Release date: 2012-01-03

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.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image