The Guard


5 stars


Director: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong


Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson have a chat

For the best part of two decades Brendan Gleeson has been ploughing himself a nicely consistent career of eye-catching supporting turns, but until recently has found juicy leading roles rather harder to come by.


As brilliant as he was In Bruges, it was a whispered show next to the louder tics and angst of Colin Farrell.


The Guard puts him decisively centre stage as Gerry Boyle, an amiably aimless rural Irish policeman who finds himself dealing for the first time with an international drug gang parking themselves in his patch and having to co-operate, not exactly with a full heart, with the FBI.


Though from a distance The Guard looks like a genre piece, it has the wandering structure of a shaggy dog story. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh (whose brother Martin penned the similarly dialogue-rich In Bruges) never wastes a character or moment. It's too rare to see a film where even one-scene, no-name characters shimmer with colour.


Brendan dispenses advice to the ladies

Boyle is an unconventional lead. Clearly blessed with a brain that could have Columbo on the ropes, even the prospect of a murderous drugs gang in his borough fails to get his heart racing.


His pleasures are baiting the suits ("I thought all drug dealers were black," he asks Don Cheadle's super-starched Fed), cavorting with hookers and popping the old pill.


But despite being blackmailed by Liam Cunningham's drug boss, he keeps at it, while his colleagues are taking generous bribes to turn their heads.


Boyle turns out to be the only cop willing or able to take this to the end game. While others are upping sticks to Cork on misinformation or turning a blind eye, he doggedly refuses to cower. As overweight and shambling as Boyle is, he's got Boba Fett-levels of cool. Fearless by nature of not giving a shit, he's a hero in shopkeeper clothing. As Cheadle points out to him, he can't work out whether he's the dumbest or the smartest man he's ever met.


If there's any justice, Gleeson will be leading the Best Actor pack at the Oscars next year, while McDonagh's authentically Irish script is showy enough to guarantee a Best Original Screenplay nod. Best film of the year, hands down.


Steve O'Brien



Watch a taster here



The Guard
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