After seeing Brendan Gleeson’s absolutely amazing work in Calvary a few weeks ago, I was eager to see his other collaboration with John Michael McDonagh, the Irish version of a traditional buddy cop comedy. The film, entitled The Guard, is a real oddity of a comedy – it has a simple premise combined with the cynical and relentless Irish humor we rarely get to see in movies today without bordering on stereotypical or cliched.
It is becoming very clear to me now that Brendan Gleeson is a very underrated actor. He is hulking in size, but sophisticated in manner. He can play intelligent brutes, or brutish intellectuals and characters that are on both sides of the law. Gleeson is a brilliant actor, and The Guard is one of his crowning achievements. As Gerry Boyle, a hardened Irish cop who really doesn’t really care about anything at all – he will gladly show off his racist tendencies, or has no problem taking LSD found on an accident victim.
Gleeson is bitterly hilarious as Boyle, a man who is so inappropriate, but so brilliant at the same time. It takes a special combination of writing and performance to give such a nasty character redeeming qualities, and McDonagh and Gleeson turn a potentially disgusting human being into one of cinema’s most charming and likable protagonists. It shows how genius both men are – McDonagh for conceiving the idea and writing those gloriously inappropriate and strangely philosophical lines, and Gleeson for injecting the perfect amount of humor, charm and insanity into the role. It is a very different role to that of Father James in Calvary. At this point, Gleeson needs to do a lot of bad to prove me wrong, because I believe that he can do absolutely no wrong under the right circumstances.
The Guard may seem like a conventional independent comedy – normal, stereotypical characters having long, rambling discussions about nothing in general. Yet, as you dive deeper and deeper, you realize that The Guard has a lot to say about life and society. It is very philosophical and meaningful. There seems to be so much to dissect and consider. There are so many clues scattered throughout the film as to what happens at the end – reactions to throwaway lines, little pieces of background noise and foreshadowing that is at home in Shakespearean theatre. It can be very dark and violent at times, and sometimes the lack of empathy that the characters feel can be a little off-putting, but that doesn’t ever distract from the fact that I very rarely laugh as much as I did here. The humor is smart and edgy, and skirts around some gargantuan ideas with a cynical outlook.
John Michael McDonagh takes a lot of inspiration from he and his brother’s theatre background, using dialogue as the biggest narrative method. This film would have been just as amazing if it was just Gleeson and Don Cheadle talking in a room for the entire duration, but the fact that McDonagh added this brilliant story to the incredibly beautiful landscapes of Western Ireland just took it to another level. It proves how intelligent comedy doesn’t ever have to be only dialogue-driven, and that beauty actually does exist outside the bleak black-and-white hipster paradise that so many mumblecore and independent comedies thrive on. It is utterly brilliant.
The Guard is one of those films that you never want to end. It is so riveting and incredibly captivating. It is dark, but one of the funniest films you’ll ever see. Just be warned – it may be about a cop and drug smuggling, but don’t expect to see any hardcore explosions or chase scenes. That’s not how McDonagh does things, and thankfully so, because without his sardonic opinion on this genre of film, we would not have the insane, brilliant journey that is The Guard.