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Guard, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Cops, crooks, and comedy."
5 stars

At one point in "The Guard", it's suggested that there are hidden depths to the title character, with a visiting FBI agent saying he's not sure whether he's an idiot or a genius (in a somewhat saltier manner). That's oversimplifying, of course; a large part of what makes the movie so much fun is that even if Sergeant Gerry Boyle is neither, he's so perfectly suited to his environment that Brendan Gleeson is able to make such a screwy character cool.

Boyle is pretty much the entire police department for a small town in County Galway, Ireland, and since he's lazy and mildly corrupt, that makes it a good place to dump a body if you don't want a murder investigated too closely; even a conscientious new subordinate, Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan), isn't going to push Boyle to work particularly hard investigating. Still, when he sees the victim's face during a briefing on a gang of drug smugglers suspected of being in the area, he speaks up, bringing even more straight-laced FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to town, which threatens to throw a wrench into the plans of the other gang members (Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong), who are planning to bring quite a bit of white powder into the country there.

The Guard is built like a buddy-cop movie, but it's really Brendan Gleeson's show. Gerry Boyle isn't a particularly complex character, but he is a nuanced one, well-rounded enough that although the audience may not always be able to predict what he'll do, it's always the thing that makes the most sense in retrospect. The trick is that Boyle doesn't really change that much over the course of the movie, but Gleeson has such a strong idea of who this guy is that he can slip from buffoonish to sly so smoothly the audience doesn't realize those bits are at opposite ends of a scale. The feeling is not that he's committed to something, but rather that he's accepted it - Gerry Boyle just is this guy, and Gleeson just needs to be Boyle instead of forcing him at the audience.

That doesn't make Don Cheadle any less valuable, of course - aside from Cheadle's Wendell Everett always being there to move the plot forward when Boyle might dawdle, having him there as a straight man makes what's going on with Doyle even funnier. Separately, he's got a few pretty great fish-out-of-water bits, and he's also the one who saves a couple of potentially ugly "Boyle says something naively racist" jokes by hitting just the right combination of offense and professionalism.. Gleeson and Cheadle make a fun pair, with Boyle driving Everett up the wall and Everett just too good a person to truly respond in kind.

Their fun banter is matched on the other end by a group of villains who are just as mismatched as the heroes are: Liam Cunningham evokes the well-read but still blue-collar neighborhood kingpin common in Irish crime pictures, while Mark Strong is the smoother and younger English model and David Wilmot is the dim, ratty psychopath. They're as much fun to watch lamenting the difficulties of international drug smuggling as anything else in the movie. In between, there are a bunch of other great characters, none of whom just fill space.

That's an important thing for this type of comedy that many filmmakers don't realize - every character really should both advance the story and be funny in some way. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh does get this, though, and makes sure that each scene is worthy on its own, with a nugget of humor or drama that keeps it from just being something to tie things together. McDonagh really nails the right tone perfectly, giving the characters and audience stakes enough to make the finale dramatic but never forgetting that the idea is to make the audience laugh.

McDonagh and his cast - especially Gleeson - do this so well that it doesn't look extraordinary. This sort of crime comedy is seldom close to this good without sacrificing one part to prop the other up, though, making it a real treat.

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originally posted: 11/05/11 00:43:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Berlin International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

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  29-Jul-2011 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jan-2012


  DVD: 03-Jan-2012

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