It doesn’t take much effort to notice that there’s a very distinct British sense of humor; British films and television are all over the place. It’s less common to see around here, but there’s just as distinct anIrish sense of humor — very dry, and very aware of the absurdity of everyday life, which allows for turning up that absurdity a bit without drawing undue attention. It’s this sense of humor that makes The Guard such a riot.
Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a sergeant of the Garda in a small town in Connemara, and he has all the personal warmth and tact of Archie Bunker. On the other hand, he’s not much for propriety, getting drunk and/or high as the whim takes him, and scheduling days off of duty to import prostitutes by the pair from Dublin. Of course he’s really not a bad guy — he’s even sort of charming in his own way — but the only real soft spot we see is how he cares for his ailing mother (Fionnula Flanagan).
So then a body turns up with a bullet in its head and a cryptically-staged crime scene. There are thoughts of a serial killer until Gerry recognizes the dead man during a briefing by visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) about an incoming shipment of five hundred million — that’s half a billion, boys — dollars worth of cocaine. The other three behind the shipment (Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, and Mark Strong) are still at large, though, and it seems unlikely anyone’s going to help much with ferreting them out.
Gleeson brings Gerry to life and makes it so you can’t help but love him. And yet he never dips into cliché or stereotype, though he projects one after another onto pretty much everyone around him. Cheadle, for his part, does a great job as the straight man; he seems constantly on the brink of screaming out “what the hell is wrong with you people?” as everyone else takes events in stride.
Writer/director John Michael McDonagh carries the humor straight through the production, shooting the whole thing as one big raised-eyebrow deadpan. This movie is the guy at the pub who can spin a yarn that gets more and more outrageous as everyone knows it’s complete rubbish, and yet holds forth with a straight face as everyone else laughs. And laugh we must, for as thin as the plot can sometimes wear — and there are some pretty threadbare patches and inartfully-constructed bits of exposition — you can’t help but love it for its earnest goodwill.
The Irish have long been a nation of bards, raconteurs, and story-tellers. The Guard continues that tradition in top form. It’s got a certain slyness that makes it hard to tell if it’s really fucking smart or really fucking dumb. In either case, I’ll put my own money on really fucking good.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.