The Guard (2011)

Directed by John Michael McDonagh

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The Guard is what Green Book wanted to be, weirdly enough.  It’s a murder mystery of sorts that quickly moves into the same action-comedy territory as another Brendan Gleeson film, 2008’s In Bruges (directed by John Michael McDonagh’s brother Martin).  Within this the two central protagonists are the Irish Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) and the American Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle).  Like with a fish out of water story Everett finds himself out of place in this small Irish village and must deal with Boyle’s casual, even gleeful, racism which just so happens to be a part of the blunt manner in which he approaches everything in life.

Boyle is a fascinating character, both depressed and aggressively driven by a moral compass.  He takes delight in the few pleasures around him (alcohol, prostitutes), cares for his dying mother and otherwise dismisses a new cop assigned to work with him and takes his time with the investigation which necessitated bringing in the FBI.

Even now he remains hard to get a read on except that I know he remained quite likable throughout.  He has an undeniable humanity that occasionally hides beneath his initial misery.  But even when he speaks down to his new partner you get the sense that he’s just childlike, dismissing him not with any deep-seated ill-will but rather the fleeting whims of someone who simply can’t bother to mask his true feelings.

He’s got a heart of gold, I suppose, and it’s evident from the start, possibly just because Gleeson himself seems to demand our empathy.

Everett is much more by the books, straight-laced and with no room for anything but the job.  His character, I’d say, has much less to do other than to lighten up, and though he too is likable, I think it’s only because we want so badly for him to like the character we like.  It all comes back to Gleeson.

But their buddy cop dynamic works, just another charming rhythm to the film that accompanies many other scenes as well.  We spend plenty of time with the antagonists even, and their conversations have more to do than just push the plot forward.  The characters philosophize about life, money and happiness (doing so in a striking visual inside of an aquarium), they mock their line of business as a whole (drug smuggling), and they wonder about the difference between psychopath and sociopath.

When a character dies, as several do, others comment on how they died.  When a character is bribed, they discuss why and how they’re bribed and what role the bribery plays in their business.  When, later on, Boyle refuses to be bribed, they admire his integrity even as they understand that it means they must try to get him out of the picture.

It’s really just a kinetic, entertaining action-comedy about compelling characters.  It does feel like a cousin to In Bruges, a genre story about not such wonderful people who rediscover some humanity within themselves, all while the film delivers the more electric thrills of a genre movie.

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