Director John Michael McDonagh, actor Don Cheadle, actress Katarina Cas, actor Brendan Gleeson and actor Liam Cunningham pose for a portrait during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival at The Samsung Galaxy Tab Lift on January 21, 2011 in Park City, Utah. (Getty Images)more pics »
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
One of the few complete films of 2011. McDonagh is a writer/director to watch.
John Michael McDonagh, following in his brother, Martin's, footsteps, has made the best comedy of 2011. Both brothers made their mark with great short films (The Second Death by John Michael, and Oscar nominee Six Shooter by Martin) and followed them up with original European crime comedies starring Brendan Gleeson. Martin directed 2008's In Bruges, and now John Michael has directed The Guard. Both brothers also wrote their films.
Cinema has a rich history of talented families: the Coppolas, the Dardennes, the Coens. I'm betting we're witnessing the beginning of another great family connection. Martin's In Bruges defied genre conventions and scripted two characters (played by Gleeson and Colin Farrell) who were not simply anti-heroes, they were good bad guys. In Bruges was one of the best and most original films of 2008. The Guard is very much in the same vein. In fact, the brothers' writing styles are eeriely similar. Both have a keen sense for language and comedic timing. Gleeson deserves a lot of credit for his pitch-perfect deliveries, but the words need to be on the page. The McDonaghs don't have the signature style of The Coen Brothers.. yet, but they sculpt their scripts much in the same vein. Their feature films so far are hilarious, violent, and perfectly cast, which is something the Coens lead the league in every year.
The Guard stars Gleeson as the title character (police are known as "guards" in Ireland). Sgt. Gerry Boyle is an unconventional small-town Irish cop who drops acid in the first scene of the film and cavorts with prostitutes in another. His way is his own. He lives alone, swims laps in the raging Atlantic, and hangs out with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who posseses Boyle's same wicked sense of humor. Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) is an FBI agent in Ireland investigating a small gang of thieves who have a half billion dollars worth of drugs somewhere nearby. Cheadle plays Everett with a cool dignity, something every Cheadle character posseses. He tells Boyle, "I cant tell if you're really motherfucking dumb, or really motherfucking smart," to which Boyle gives a wry smile. This is the essence of the relationship the two develop. Boyle is crass and racist and Everett struggles against the tide for the greater good. Boyle is actually a great cop, and Everett needs him, but he doesn't have to like him.
When Boyle's new partner, McBride, disappears, he finds renewed interest in the case. Drug runners aren't impressive to him, but cop-killers are a different story. Unlike his fellow colleagues, Boyle cannot be bought. He may break the law on his own, but he has his morals. Boyle soon proves to be more resourceful than his American counterpart. He discovers where the drugs will be transferred and sets up a Rambo-like plan to stop it.
Everything about The Guard works. Gleeson is terrific, sharp and funny. Cheadle is devout as the straight man but is no pushover. The rest of the cast all compliment the two stars beautifully. Flanagan is sweet and funny as Eileen Boyle. The criminals defy type by arguing about Bertrand Russell and quoting Nietzsche. Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong both give great performances, delivering McDonagh's lines with fervor. The writer/director posseses immense talent. The next step is to make a film without Gleeson and see if the words have the same effect.
See photos of the cast of The Guard: