Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brendan Gleeson is the Guard

Sergeant Gerry Boyle is too corrupt to be corrupted. The Archie Bunker of the Irish Garda (with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson), his flaws are manifest, but misunderestimate him at your own peril in writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

When Boyle and his new partner discover a dead body connected to a trio of rogue drug traffickers, the curmudgeonly copper takes it in stride. He is certainly not about to cancel his regularly scheduled assignation with two up-scale call girls imported from Dublin. However, when Boyle’s partner turns up missing, he starts to take matters more seriously.

In contrast, the FBI is quite concerned about the ruthless (but eccentric) gang, dispatching Special Agent Wendell Everett to take charge of the case. Needless to say, the straight-laced agency man clashes with the decidedly unimpressed Boyle. Unfortunately for Everett, Boyle is not only the smartest cop on the force, he is also the only one not on the take.

McDonagh’s razor-sharp dialogue is a joy to hear, particularly coming from Brendan Gleeson as the jowly and jaundiced Boyle. Gleefully subverting the jolly Irish cop stereotype, his Boyle comfortably occupies the hazy border between hero and anti-hero. Likewise, Don Cheadle is appropriately intense, but still cool, as the strictly business Everett. Their standoffish relationship and pointed banter is well beyond the stuff of standard buddy-cop fare.

Completing the package, Guard also boasts a full battery of colorfully distinctive villains. Liam Cunningham, recognizable as the commanding Pres. Richard Tate in BBC America’s Outcasts, chews the scenery with relish as Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a homicidal self-styled gentleman of literary refinement. Though much more understated, Mark Strong’s turn as Clive Cornell, the gangster cynically disaffected with illicit drug trade and the crooked cops who abet it, gives the film a real cutting edge.

Cleverly written from start to finish, The Guard is the most quotable film in years, right up there with the original Fletch. Boyle may very well be a character Gleeson was born to play. In fact, he more-or-less reprises the role in Noreen a very funny short written and directed by his son, Domhnall Gleeson, that also screened at Tribeca this year. Indeed, his richly comedic work as Boyle ought to make him a household name in America as audiences see and recommend The Guard. It’s that good. Thoroughly entertaining, it opens this Friday (7/29) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.