The Guard – Good cop, bad cop, stupid or smart? Brendan Gleeson’s garda keeps you guessing

The Guard - Brendan Gleeson as Gerry Boyle

After the success of 2008’s In Bruges, here’s The Guard, another wickedly dark, Irish-accented comedy thriller from a writer-director named McDonagh. At the helm this time is John Michael McDonagh and he lives up to younger brother Martin’s feature debut – with help from the earlier film’s star, Brendan Gleeson.

Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a small-town police sergeant in the west of Ireland who is the least likely cop hero you can imagine. Overweight and middle-aged, he’s also gleefully cynical, defiantly un-PC and unabashed about pinching drugs from a crime scene or consorting with hookers. Understandably, Boyle’s manner takes African-American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) aback when the latter turns up on the trail of an international cocaine-smuggling ring. Yet, with the drug smugglers running rings round everyone else, the investigation yokes this unlikely pair together in typical buddy-movie fashion, giving Everett the opportunity to grasp the shrewd brain that’s hidden behind Boyle’s dumb hick schtick.

Gleeson’s Boyle constantly wrong-foots those around him. He has no time for political correctness, yet it’s his mealy-mouthed PC-Plod colleagues who are the real racists; he frequently strays from the straight and narrow, but can’t be bought off by the crooks. McDonagh’s film follows his lead: it shares his jaunty irreverance and has similar fun with convention. Take the drug gang. Liam Cunningham’s philosophical ringleader quotes Nietszche, while his English sidekick, played by Mark Strong, gripes about the company he’s forced to keep in his line of work – and about the work itself. “I don’t do manual labour,” he says. “When I applied for the job of international drug smuggler, it didn’t say anything about heavy lifting.”

McDonagh almost lets the quirkiness get out of hand, but beneath the banter is a cracking crime thriller that delivers the features you want from the genre, including intricate plotting, tense standoffs and bloody shootouts.

On general release from 19th August.

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