In his quiet town on the Irish coast on the North Atlantic, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) goes about his duties "policing" the town. He's unorthodox and doesn't have much of a filter in communicating, but he's a good cop nonetheless. With a new officer on staff, McBride (Rory Keenan), Boyle investigates an odd murder, an outsider shot in the head and left to rot. Boyle and McBride wonder if it's a possible serial killer, but there's bigger things afoot. An FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), has arrived to help the investigation. Everett believes the murder was involved with a huge drug deal that could net half a billion dollars in cocaine. Now the country cop must deal with the American agent, the time wasting away as the deal approaches.
A dark, indie Irish comedy was a new one for me. I can't think of another Irish movie I've even seen, but I picked a good one to start with. According to Wikipedia (and when are they ever wrong?), 'Guard' is the most successful indie Irish film of all-time. First-time director John Michael McDonagh is working with familiar territory here, the fish out of water agent/officer forced to work with the eccentric, hometown police officer. But familiar is not a bad thing because McDonagh and the cast make it worthwhile. It feels like you've seen it before, but still manages to have that unique, unseen quality. The kinda quirky tone and eccentric qualities to it all work (think Irish Fargo in a way), and the Spanish guitar-themed score just adds to the quirkiness.
There was some pre-Oscar buzz that Brendan Gleeson would be nominated for an Oscar for his role as Sgt. Gerry Boyle, but that never materialized. Maybe because it's a comedy, the performance didn't get a ton of publicity. And if it isn't an Oscar-winning part, it is a very good one just the same. Gleeson's Boyle is somewhat proud of his racist prejudices, drinks on duty, samples drugs, visits prostitutes, but as an officer he always gets the job done. All vices aside, he is a good cop...even if his techniques are a little off-the-wall. His lack of a censor or filter provides a ton of laughs. He isn't necessarily racist, just curious and generally inexperienced with anyone non-white and non-Irish. A sub-plot with his mother, Eileen (Fionnula Flanagan), helps humanize him too if you're having trouble liking the character. It's just more proof that characters actors are more than capable of becoming lead actors.
The more familiar territory does come with Gleeson's Boyle working with Cheadle's Wendell as the investigation into the drug deal develops. Boyle isn't angrily racist, he's just prejudiced by stereotypes. He assumes Wendell doesn't like to swim, grew up in the projects, and that all drug dealers are black and Mexican. To his credit, Wendell doesn't flip out on him. The dynamic though is what makes the buddy cop relationship work. Differences aside, they'll get the job done. Gleeson and Cheadle are two immensely talented actors in whatever role, comedy or drama, and their chemistry is what makes that familiar story worth watching. Toward the end, Boyle asks Wendell if he's been shot before, and the exchange about the pain involved is priceless. The button-down American agent and the eccentric Irish cop? Can't go wrong.
Developing his story, McDonagh has some fun with his villains too, making them more than just underworld thugs. The trio is led by Sheehy (Liam Cunningham) and includes London enforcer Cornell (Mark Strong) and sociopath killer O'Leary (David Wilmot). The basic characters have been done before, but never quite like this. Sheey leads his crew in a discussion of everyone's favorite philosophers and said philosopher's most famous line. Strong's Cornell almost blows up on cops he's cutting a deal with them, asking them why he'd skim off the top a few thousand dollars when a $500,000,000 drug deal is on the line, also claiming he got into drug trafficking, not carrying heavy things. Given an option to run or fight, Cornell states "It's like f'ing Christmas!" and opts to stay. They're villains, yes, and rather nasty ones, but they're not run of the mill by any means. Other solid parts include Michael Og Lane as Eugene, a youngster who always helps Boyle, and Dominique McElligott (of Hell on Wheels) as Aoiffe, a prostitute Boyle visits.
I was somewhat surprised by the direction the film takes in its last 20 minutes. It was already pretty dark comedically, but it leans just more straight dark dramatically in the finale. The confrontation on a dock at the drug deal is a good action scene, added by a spaghett-western like score playing over the shootout. But what's really surprising is the open-ended quality of the ending. It leaves it open to the viewer to decide what happens, much like 2008's In Bruges. What ending works for you is what it comes down to. A really good, really funny comedy.
The Guard <---trailer (2011): ***/****