The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)

The Guard

Ok, I’d heard that this was good but I didn’t reckon on just how good it was going to be. Like a very black version of Father Ted, this sets up a sleepy, backward and corrupt Irish country town and its policeman, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) who, right from the opening sequence, is shown to be rather unenthusiastic about police procedure, and is later shown hiring prostitutes and helping to cover up some pretty major crimes – though in order to avoid larger problems.

This backwater is disturbed by a grisly murder with, at first, possible “serial killer” overtones, the disappearance of a young and enthusiastic collegue, recently arrived from Dublin, and then the appearance of the FBI, in the form of Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), working with the Irish authorities to intercept international drug dealers. Gerry’s world is becoming very dangerous indeed.

Gerry takes a great pleasure in playing up to the “Oirish thickie” stereotype, and some low-level racism, to wind Wendell up but, as they get to know one another, a grudging respect emerges. There is a clear “quirky cop / by-the-books cop buddy movie” being set up here but the whole thing is very charming and, despite some great laughs, Gerry’s character is kept just the right side of eccentric and corrupt to still be sympathetic. Even the villains have a little complexity, and some pretty funny lines (Mark Strong, particularly, is superb), although there is little to like about them. Wendell questions whether Gerry might be “the stupidest person I’ve ever encountered or the cleverest”, and we see enough of him, particularly in his relationship with his dying mother, to suggest it is the second.

This really is a lovely film, not a blockbuster, but (yet another!) small and interesting and, most of all, charming movie.

On the DVD we rented, there was a small extra feature, a short film shot cheaply on grainy film, and called “The Second Ghost”, featuring most of the same cast as The Guard (though not Gleeson or Cheadle) and also set in rural Ireland. This is also certainly worth a watch but not immediately after the main film as the tone is very different, being a superb little gothic chiller.

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