By Ray Bennett
LONDON – There is a fish out of water in John Michael McDonagh’s entertaining Irish crime yarn “The Guard” but it’s not the black American FBI agent parachuted into Galway on the hunt for a gang of drug dealers. The film opened in the UK from Optimum Releasing on Aug. 19.
The odd man out is the title character, a veteran police sergeant named Gerry Boyle, played with great panache by Brendan Gleeson. Boyle is a solitary man who goes against the grain of his fellow officers. He likes Elvis and Guinness and listens to Chet Baker; he is considerate of his sick mother and despairing of feckless youth; and he tends to speak contrarily in order to rattle the truth out of friend and foe.
Boyle likes to play the dimwit with a touch of racism to gull people so they will underestimate him and that’s just what he does when FBI Agent Wendell Everett shows up with his slick methods of criminology. Don Cheadle plays the FBI man with exactly the right touch of exasperation over Boyle’s goading. In McDonagh’s well-constructed script, they win each other’s respect and the two actors find a very enjoyable chemistry.
McDonagh foreshadows just about everything in the film so whenever a plot development, character, or weapon is introduced, you can be sure it will show up again later. That is no bad thing, however, as the filmmaker says he views his picture as a Western and he’s got the formula right with considerable wit and inevitable violence.
Quentin Tarantino was obviously inspiration for the nature of the three villains in the piece, two Irishmen and an Englishman who reflect upon the need to kill people and debate the significance of their favourite philosophers and pithy maxims. Liam Cunningham plays the somewhat world-weary leader with David Wilmot as an Irish killer unsure if he’s a sociopath or a psychopath and Mark Strong as a dogmatic English hoodlum happy only when bullets start to fly.
Rory Keenan plays a rookie cop with a beautiful wife from Eastern Europe named Gabriela (Katarina Cas), and Dominique McElligott and Sarah Greene play a pair of cheerful hookers. All four figure in matters as the plot develops, and McDonagh gives them each the chance to add colour to the piece.
Fionnula Flanagan makes a typically vivid appearance as Boyle’s seriously ill mother, and her scenes with Gleeson are funny and moving. Gleeson works very well with Cheadle too, as they bang their heads together before they become a team.
Cinematographer Larry King takes full advantage of the Galway landscapes and with the director frames images that give that part of Ireland an Old West flavour. Music from alternative country band Calexico from Arizona gives the soundtrack pleasing authenticity.
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Mark Strong, Rory Keenan, Fionnula Flanagan, Katarina Cas, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene; Director, screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh; Director of photography: Larry Smith; Production designer: John Paul Kelly; Editor: Chris Gill; Music: Calexico; Costume designer: Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh; Producers: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe; Executive Producers: Paul Brett, Don Cheadle, Ralph Kemp, Martin McDonagh, David Nash, Tim Smith, Lenore Zerman; Production: Reprisal Films, Element Pictures, Crescendo Productions, Aegis Film Fund, Irish Film Board, Prescience, UK Film Council; Distributors: Optimum Releasing (UK), Sony Pictures Classics (US). Rated 15, 96 minutes.