Irish police sergeant Gerry Boyle might be "the last of the independents." But this boozy, bluff and blunt redhead sure is a hard man t'love.
He's a racist — or at least is comfortable coming off that way. For shock value, don't you know: "I thought only black lads were drug dealers. And Mexicans."
The only times Boyle is telling a tall tale are when he opens his mouth. And as he tells them, he's not shy about unleashing a cascade of curses — a symphony of F-bombs delivered in a rich Irish brogue.
Pairing this swaggering, unfiltered liar (Brendan Gleeson) and veteran of the Garda, the Irish state police, with an American drug enforcement agent played by Don Cheadle is nothing short of brilliant.
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"You know," agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) growls at Boyle, "I can't tell if you're really mother-(Boyle's favorite word)-ing dumb, or really mother (Boyle's fave again)-ing smart."
That's the joy in The Guard, a dark comedy written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. It's an inspired buddy-cop teaming of the great Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter pictures) and deadpan Cheadle in a movie that keeps us just as confused as Everett, and just as dazzled, amused and perplexed by Boyle.
Something's up in Boyle's sleepy corner of Ireland. A body has turned up. And a cache of guns. He's dismissive of his superiors, sarcastic of any big-crime theories. His petty corruption and laziness make us and everyone else under estimate him. When drugs come into the conversation and Everett arrives, Boyle is not about to get worked up.
"So where do we start?" Everett wants to know. But Boyle has just ordered drinks.
"I say we start with these two lads and take it from there."
The Guard soars along on a script, like those by the other McDonagh (brother Martin wrote and directed In Bruges and the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter, both starring Gleeson), built out of verbal flourishes and Irish curses: "Sweet Jay-zus on a stick!"
We follow Boyle's ramble through the case, getting tips from rude children and other locals — between conjugal visits to hookers, back-alley deals with ex-IRA terrorists and trips to see his equally profane dying mother (Finnoula Flanagan). And we see the take-no-prisoners mobsters he's up against. McDonagh's third great coup — landing Mark Strong as his villain. Strong's Clive Cornell throws tantrums and sputters at the annoyance this shambling cop could cause him.
The Guard is the best cop film in ages not because of its plot or the florid flinging of F-bombs by all concerned. McDonagh has set this in a place that has become a cinematic cliché, of shamrocks and "Diddley aye" music and leprechaun accents. He has made a laugh-out-loud comedy as hard as The French Connection, a modern spaghetti Western on the windswept wastes of Ireland.
And best of all, he has given a trio of the greatest character actors working today a playground to run riot in.