Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an apparently ignorant, morally-corrupt policeman residing in the quiet, coastal town of Connemara. The tranquillity of the picturesque surroundings are shattered after the discovery of a murdered local drug-dealer, and Boyle soon finds himself investigating an international drug-trafficking operation headed up by mobster Francis Sheehy (Cunningham) and his psychopathic associates. Connemara becomes the backdrop for a brutal – and at times farcical – game of cat and mouse between the homicidal felons, local law enforcement (i.e. Boyle) and FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle), who is forced into an uneasy alliance with our drunken, womanising protagonist.
The ‘odd couple’ pairing of Boyle and Everett predictably provides some of The Guard’s best comic moments, often revolving around the Irishman’s poor choice of words. In an introductory meeting with the FBI agent, Boyle swiftly puts his foot in it by expressing his thoughts that only ‘black guys’ and Mexicans were guilty of drug-dealing in the US – after Everett’s dismissal of the comment as racist, Boyle simply rebukes, “I’m Irish. Racism is in my culture”. As with his sibling’s In Bruges, McDonagh shows no fear in confronting racism, xenophobia and discrimination through comedy, and the unlikely Lethal Weapon-esque partnership between Gleeson’s cynical small-town cop and Everett’s idealistic FBI agent is engaging throughout, fizzing with some extremely well-written dialogue.
The problem with the The Guard unfortunately lies in its narrative. The final third of the film is highly predictable, with Boyle’s redemptive character arc rounding itself off in typical fashion, familiar to anyone who has seen a buddy-cop movie. In addition, a sub plot involving the Sergeant’s dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan) appears tagged on to inform the audience that our prostitute-frequenting, coke-snorting protagonist isn’t all bad, yet ends up looking like unnecessary padding.
As a debut feature, McDonagh has every right to be pleased with The Guard. Not only has he shown himself to be a witty, eloquent writer, but also manages to coax out a career best performance from the often overlooked Gleeson (who unfortunately missed out on the 2012 Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical). Hopes will be high for McDonagh’s sophomore feature, which may well end up locking horns with brother Martin’s upcoming In Bruges follow up Seven Psychopaths (2012), starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken.