Initially, the premise does not sound overly appealing, given that the ‘fish out of water’ narrative has been done to death. Nevertheless, The Guard quickly disperses any apprehension; it is an extremely well-executed film.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle is an apathetic Irish police officer who tends not to do things by the book. He is annoyed to be joined by a new officer from Dublin, Aidan McBride. The duo discover a murder, which has links to a drug-smuggling operation. Boyle is forced to team up with FBI agent Wendell Everett in order to investigate the crime…
The Guard boasts a fantastic script by John Michael McDonagh, who also directs the film. Characters are well written and the dialogue is peppered with wit. The film shows an admirable level of self-awareness. There are frequent references to the bad guys being aware that they are villains, or how the film fits into the crime film mould, for example.
The film is frequently humorous, some of which is black. In certain places, some may find the jokes a little close to the bone, but most will relish the comedic aspects of The Guard. These work well against the rather melancholy tone of both the incidents and the backdrop.
While the story may seem like another tale of an unlikely duo, in reality it offers much more than this. The beauty of the writing is in its deception. The film initially appears quite straightforward, but as it develops it is clear that there is more to it. The same can be said of protagonist Boyle. His character is succinctly introduced by the opening sequence. However, Boyle develops throughout the film, and appears truly three-dimensional. Given his authenticity, it is difficult to judge what action he will take later in the film.
Performances in the film are great. Nonetheless, it is Brendan Gleeson who steals the show as Boyle. Gleeson embodies the character, giving a tremendously strong performance. Elsewhere, Mark Strong is decent as the knowingly caricatured Clive, while Don Cheadle brings presence as Wendell. Fionnula Fanagan is also great as Boyle’s ailing mother Eileen.
There is a grainy, naturalistic look to the film, which is highlighted by the Galloway setting. The cinematography really emphasises the ordinariness of the locale, contrasting it with frequent mentions of big cities such as London and Dublin.
The Guard is a great watch, with exemplary writing and performances. It is an excellent showcase of McDonagh’s talents.