If you loved 'In Bruges,' which opened Sundance two years ago, you're sure to at least like 'The Guard,' which co-opened this year's fest. In addition to also starring Brendan Gleeson and involving some similar themes and tone, the film is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of 'In Bruges' writer-director Martin McDonagh (Martin also gets an executive producer credit here, though only because he introduced John to Gleeson). While many filmmaking brothers working separately are not very similar in aesthetic and sense of humor (the Scotts,
I actually enjoyed 'The Guard' a huge amount more, though, and from talking to and overhearing people around Park City, I've learned that there is an imbalance of favor among viewers. It's common for lovers of 'In Bruges' to like this somewhat less, while those of us who weren't really big fans of the previous work tend to really love to new one. I don't know if I can say I absolutely love it, however, if only because of its terribly directed shootout climax. Yet it is very smart and funny until then, so I definitely recommend it.
Gleeson, in a part he was born to play, is hilarious as small town Irish cop Gerry Boyle, an iconoclastic detective who is either truly a "bad lieutenant" (or, in this case, sergeant) or a guy who's simply too intelligent to bother doing his job in the "proper" way. Throughout the movie he is crass, tactless, politically incorrect and seemingly filled with apathy. If the movie were American, Billy Bob Thornton would most certainly play him. Boyle's life changes when on the same day he gets a new idealistic and innocent partner (Rory Keenan) and also an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) arrives in town for a drug trafficking investigation.
What ensues is a fairly typical fish-out-of-water buddy cop story, but highly self-reflexive and often self-parodying, though it's not as much a lampoon of the genre as 'Hot Fuzz.' On the other side of the coin from Gleeson is straight-faced Mark Strong, as one of a trio of villains, who kind of brings the "too old for this sh*t" mentality to the bad guy role. Like a mirror against Boyle, he too seems fed up with the way things are usually done in his field and talks of the meaningless of crime and too much money. He both refuses to participate in the toilsome aspects of being a criminal and calls out clichés of the job.
Other than my disappointment with McDonagh's handling of the action in the end, I also have a few other minor problems with the third act, including the fact that there's nothing satisfactorily done with that dichotomy of Gleeson and Strong's characters. Yet the film does conclude rather respectably in an ambiguous manner suited to the enigmatic nature of Boyle. Fans of Cheadle, meanwhile, will possibly take issue with how little he gets to do with regards to his talent as an actor, but this is completely Gleeson's movie and if you can't appreciate his performance here as being all that truly matters, you really don't have much reason to be talking of an actor's craft anyway.