The Guard: one in an occasional series of film reviews

A great  contemporary western.   A buddy film with a most unlikely pair of buddies. A cop movie that pits good against brazen, unapologetic evil. The Guard, a new Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, is audaciously funny as it explores corruption, integrity and heroism.  Starring Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) and Don Cheadle, The Guard revels in its genre-bending and self-mocking, and glides into epic territory as it tells the story of a local cop in County Galway who finds himself in the middle of a drug trafficking and murder investigation with an altogether too-serious African American FBI agent.

Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendon Gleeson) is an eccentric cop with a taste for prostitutes and a penchant for sampling drugs before they’ve gone into evidence. Boyle is notoriously independent, and that worries not only the cold-blooded killers and drug traffickers engaged in a $500MM deal (“That’s half a billion, half a billion,” asserts one cop) , but also the corrupt cops who are paid off to ensure that the deal proceeds smoothly. Boyle’s terminally ill mother (Fionnula Flanagan) with a taste for Russian authors, shuns any wallowing, and seeks ribald humor in her frequent visits from the compassionate Boyle.

FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) is a guy who takes his assignments seriously, and has a tough time being needled about anything, certainly by a local cop like Boyle.  Out of his element, and out-maneuvered, he reluctantly teams with Boyle to stop the impending drug deal in its tracks.  The local smalltown cop and the well-educated FBI agent find they can only trust each other.

The drug traffickers defy convention almost as much as does Sgt. Gerry Boyle.  Cold-blooded and impatient (Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and David Wilmot) they are also bored, which makes them all the more unpredictable. While their short outbursts of really funny existential riffs generally lead to someone getting whacked, these moments not only highlight the levels of tension in the film, they also provide these characters with a rich texture in a most economical way.

It’s tough not to think about the great film, In Bruges, while watching The Guard.  Brendan Gleeson’s Gerry Boyle is not so far off from the hired gun he played in In Bruges (written by Martin McDonagh, John Michael McDonagh’s brother).  A great soundtrack by Calexico that propels the movie from genre to genre.  The Guard punctuates its great storytelling with surprising and hilarious brief rants– on philosophy, for instance, as the bad guys argue about, and quote their favorite philosophers— Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Schopenhauer, the good guys spar about infamous FBI moments at Waco,  the cops strut around as if they’re right out of American gangster movies, and those bad guys mull over the meaning of it all.  The Guard is at its core a wonderful story about integrity and deep personal honor, with glorious performances set in a sharp, brilliant screenplay.  The Guard is a Sony Classics release, and will appear in theaters on July 29.