It is tempting to compare John Michael Mc Donaghs The Guard with his brother Michael Mc Donaghs superficially similar In Bruges. Both star Brendan Gleeson and both are the rarest of Irish films, box office hits in their native country. They were both advertised in their respective trailers as comedies but with a dark heart. But there is a difference in tone which becomes apparent when The Guard begins. It does not go for the jugular and make its characters potentially unlikeable which is the case in In Bruges. The Guard owes its debt to classic Hollywood standards to such as the buddy movies, fish out of water comedies and westerns. Whereas In Bruges is on the surface is also a buddy comedy it quickly becomes a quieter, sadder and more complex and even moving film. The Guard however, whilst aiming for something similar it unfortunately falls short.
The Guard tells the story of Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) a garda with a love of drink and women who gets caught up in an international drug ring investigation led by FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) after he finds one member of the drug ring murdered. This type of film, with the mis-matched pair of leads has been done so many times before and The Guard doesn’t add a lot to it here. The script by John Michael Mc Donagh has some very un-PC and funny lines but falls curiously flat overall. The roles of the villains are particularly underwritten, with only Mark Strong as the ‘Brit’ emerging with any character. His scene with the two policemen who he is paying off is one of the more memorable in the film. His weariness as he patiently explains to them why the money he is bribing them with is all there and accounted for is very funny indeed. The other problem with the villains roles is the propensity for them to keep throwing out philosophical quotes throughout the movie. This is seemingly to add more depth to the stock characters but has the opposite effect and becomes wearisome. There is also a sub plot with Gerry Boyles mother who is dying but this fails to add any real depth to his character or the film in general as it fells like it is tacked on.
Still there is fun to be had when Gleeson is on screen. The role of film lead rests easily on his shoulders and he is the main reason to see the film as he is given nearly all the best lines. Cheadle acquits himsef admirably as the straight man to Gleesons character but receives none of the great lines in the script and he is only seems to exist to react to to Boyles outrageous statements. There are some uncomfortably racist lines in the film which do get some great laughs. When Sgt. Boyle says to Everett that he thought all drug dealers were black, pauses for a beats and then adds or Mexican there is a real uncomfortable laugh to be had. The best line in the film has to be when Gleeson is asked to explain about his racism he explains; ‘Racism, sure its part of the Irish culture’. It is with moments like this that the script sparkles but there are not enough of such moments to sustain the plot which is quite thin to begin with.
Overall The Guard is a film worth seeing in the cinema. It is a perfect Friday night film that will entertain if you do not expect too much from it. If you are expecting a film with the quality and execution of In Bruges you are going to be disappointed. But there are so many poor films that earn phenomenal sums of money at the box office that is easy to justify seeing The Guard on the big screen. You may find that it does not quite live up to the pre release hype and the overly praised reviews. But while it is an entertaining film you may find that apart from Brendan Gleeson performance and the occasional sparkling dialogue you may not remember much else about it.