There is a quasi character study going on in The Guard. And then, some time later, it becomes a buddy cop picture. The only constant tying the two together is Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an Irish cop who has been restricted by the vacuum of his provincial Irish community but thinks he knows the outside world like he knows the Gaelic syntax. Played almost seriously by Brendan Gleeson, Gerry is one of those movie characters who is at the heart of every scene, every development, but behaves as if the world owes him a living.
His introduction is superb. A carful of drunkard teens is speeding down the Irish landscape. Maybe they are characters who will lend themselves to important advancements in the plot. No matter. They zoom past Gerry’s cop car, which is stationed just off the road in one of those You See Me But You Can’t See Me hideouts. Gerry smirks. And then we hear a crash. He pulls out and discovers the car upside down, the bodies of the teens strewn about the road. He strides over to a body, searches it and finds a small bag of drugs, which he then consumes as he looks out into the North Atlantic. What a lovely effing day.
Gerry doesn’t even bother to report the incident. We get the feeling that he’s a cop because he thinks he’ll look lean and sophisticated in a cop’s uniform. If this is true, his character is given a sly sense of humour, since Gleeson is a large man and makes no effort to be discreet about it. On the job, he sleeps, drinks and fires invisible rounds at the local arcade machine. It’s the most action he ever gets. On his days off, he mistakes distraught wives for hookers and sleeps with real hookers, sent straight from Dublin.
The distraught wife (Katarina Čas) is upset over the disappearance of her husband (Rory Keenan), who happens to be Gerry’s new partner also sent straight from Dublin, a city regarded by many of the Galway locals as a seething den of incompetent individuals. The last thing Gerry needed was a partner. The last thing he needed this partner to do was disappear. Now the FBI is involved; it sends Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to Galway to take over the case.
The bad guys, we know. They are a trio of big-time drug dealers waiting for a shipment worth half a billion (Euros, Pounds, Dollars, we don’t really know) to come in. Why Galway? It’s not under the radar, I suppose. Who would think to search a Gaelic-speaking region for drug shipments? The trio is led by Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (Liam Cunningham), whose name is no doubt Irish but brings along a concealed humorous undertone; we can never quite take him seriously. His gang has the hired gun, Clive (Mark Strong), and the talkative moron, Liam (David Wilmot), whose gunplay is nowhere near quick enough. They play around a bit with the locals and with Gerry and Wendell, and then it all comes to a head at the end when Gerry decides to single-handedly take on the shipment at the dock in a move no less sacrificial than Tony Montana’s last stand in Scarface.
This whole drug plot takes a back seat though. It is merely a platform for Gleeson and Cheadle to work on, to give them something to talk about and something to do. Thankfully, the things they talk about are funny. Most of their conversations revolve around each other and Gerry’s blatant misinterpretations of the black community — “I thought only black people did drugs? Or was it the Mexicans?”. The punchline of these jokes is never something Gleeson says, but how he says it. We are never certain of whether he is ignorant, offensive or merely naive. And neither does Wendell.
But Gerry is not all guns and bullets. McDonagh cleverly inserts the subplot of his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan), about the only person in his life he can communicate with on an emotional level. So we know he has a softer side, a human side. We also know he has values and beliefs, but the gorgeous countryside has picked at his nerves and slowed him down. The Guard is all about this. It’s about Gerry and the country. The scenery is breathtaking in just about every direction. In the middle is Gerry, who’d rather be anywhere else. His life is routine, so routine that even a big case fails to ignite a spark. We try to get inside his mind to determine who he is, but heaven knows it’s a fruitless endeavour. As Wendell points out, “I can’t tell if you’re really effing dumb or really effing smart”.
Best Moment | Any one of Gleeson’s lines.
Worst Moment | Nope.