John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard holds a number of notable similarities to his brother Martin McDonagh’s earlier film In Bruges. The Guard echoes In Bruges thematically, in its choice of style and humour along with the casting of its lead actor – in both cases the talented Brendan Gleeson.
This is not to say that John Michael McDonagh’s film is incapable of breaking away from the stylistic decisions of his brother’s earlier film. Despite their marked similarities, The Guard is fully formed, able to create its own impression upon the viewer, free from any pre-conceived constraints.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), despite the supposed subscription to the law his job should involve, has no qualms in indulging his sexual appetites through the hiring of prostitutes. Neither does he concern himself with legalities in partaking in recreational drug-use – such substances often retrieved as evidence.
Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), newly arrived from America and working for the FBI, has tracked a gang of drug smugglers to the hitherto-quiet County Galway Garda. Everett, compelled to work with Boyle, frequently remonstrates Boyle’s habit of unloading inappropriate predilections, including his taste for illegal drugs.
Assimilating the traditional buddy-cop style film, McDonagh both uses and uproots these conventions, providing much of the film’s humour. The eventual relationship between Boyle and Everett remains both highly amusing, and becomes genuinely affecting. Boyle and Everett may not particularly like one another, but they are compelled to work together.
The sparring between the pair aids the high-concept yet simplistic narrative. McDonagh makes much reference to cultural pursuits, clearly indicating the audience he wishes to appeal to. His drug smugglers engage in discourse about their favourite philosophers, quoting Nietzsche. Boyle and his mother discuss the merits of Russian literature as she reads her copy ofOblomov.
The narrative itself may be slightly clumsy and arguably incoherent at times, but such is the performance of Gleeson that these faults are easily overlooked and forgiven. The Guard is certainly flawed, but is hugely enjoyable nonetheless.