No matter how many times a certain movie duo genre is repeated, there are certain actors who have the ability to make the familiar interplay seem like an original concept. Take the pairing of Brendan Gleeson, the tall, heavy, personable bloke, and Don Cheadle, the shorter, wiry, stern and sensible man, and you see their immediate impact on a film. The formula might use the same flasks per say, but their chemistry bubbles into an off the book creation, unable for replication.
The Guard zooms through the settling Western Irish fog onto a small-town countryside, patrolled by policemen known as the “guarda.” One of them is Gleeson’s character Gerry Boyle, whose persona is shown at the immediate start: an officer who slips himself some of the drugs he catches teenage scoundrels trying to consume. It’s not that he is corrupt, but maybe just a bit too confident his job his safe at hand within the force.
Boyle is teamed up with another guarda official Aidan McBride (Rory Keenan) for an investigation after a rare murder has taken place. In the quiet seaside town, the death is obscure and a sign of a foreboding presence. McBride is from Dublin, and no one wastes any time making sure he doesn’t fit in, just one of the many naively bigoted stereotypes so bluntly displayed. The murder is linked to a drug deal postulated by the force, an expected handoff worth an estimated five-hundred million, or “half a billion” according to the guarda chief. The FBI sends American Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to Ireland to work on the case. That means joining forces with Boyle, thoroughly unimpressed with and uninformed about special agents, and his humorous disregard shows.
The two collide heads in a non-aggressive and more curious, inquisitive manner, trying to contemplate the motives and characteristics of each other rather than their partner’s brash actions. Yet Wendell is usually the beneficiary of Gerry’s sardonic nature, one that is deceptively intriguing for an officer so blatantly forward. If you get past some of the irish slur, the subtle prejudiced remarks burst through without any remorse, unbridled declaratives displaying the cultural un-awareness of the small town Sargent. Boyle’s verbal slurs and their forthright insertion into conversation create dumbfounded expressions onto the 21st century black man from Atlanta. The race-related remarks start to pose many questions for Wendell, who responds to the insults with reverence and fist-clenching calmness. Could a cop really be this uneducated about the world around him?
Then again, Boyle is the kind of guy that will drink a pint before the day’s work, call up some strippers on his day off, and then find in his heart the time to visit his dying mother. His misleading characteristics due to his own moral compass are confusing to forecast, unlike the cloudy, rainy coast of Ireland. Gerry’s poignant moments with his frail mother however outline the smart balances of emotion, distinctly giving insight into the rugged exteriors of differently proportioned cooperators.
This type of black comedy never gets too bleak though, as even the three “evil drug-dealers,” headed by actor Mark Strong, contain enough gaffes that their corrupted police pay-off plan starves off a sadistic mannerism. The oddball trio works for their protection while the polar-opposites learn to respect the other’s individual antics. The friendly forgings don’t take the typical route to a respectful cohesion however. Their jobs and dedicated roles lean them into different directions and their mutual family suffering ties similar emotional strings. The ultimate motivation comes in their duty to protect and serve, above the impropriety and malfeasance easily succumbed by their peers. For all of the bad habits, the most important ones are kept sacred.
Director and writer John Michael McDonagh blends this drama and injects it with unlikely humor which makes its laughs much more authentic, and much less scripted. Its darkness gets curtailed with meldings of good-intentioned care and the interplay between the two unlikely paired blokes serves the buddy cop dynamic well, a comical interweaving of independents that become forced to rely on each other. McDonagh’s brother directed the dark comedy In Bruges, that also starred Gleeson, a similarly toned film with a confused sense of self-righteousness its own characters pondered. The Guard achieves this sense of questioning amidst its goofy behavior, even in its soundtrack that mixes natural irish noise with smooth transitions of guitar and drum folklore.
McDonagh is clear about not letting Boyle fall under too much gloom or darkness. In a scene at a diner, Boyle is threatened to take a bribe from one of the drug traders. Instead of responding, he sucks down a shake in one sip, and is more disappointed about his brain freeze than a looming decision of valor. Such is the dilemma for Agent Everett, working with someone with a strong ego but not always for the best reasons. It’s a unique coupling to say the least, but one equally beneficial for both sides.
It’s good and bloody fun. I’ll raise a Guinness to that!