Friday, April 29, 2011

Tribeca ’11: The Guard

Sergeant Gerry Boyle is too corrupt to be corrupted. The Archie Bunker of the 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, which screens during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

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 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 some entertainingly colorful villains. Liam Cunningham, also seen at Tribeca this year in Paula van der Oest’s Black Butterflies, 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 distinctive edge.

Cleverly written from start to finish, The Guard is the most quotable film in years. Boyle may very well be a character Gleeson was born to play. In fact, he more-or-less reprises the role in Noreen (trailer here) a very funny short written and directed by his son, Domhnall Gleeson, that also screens at Tribeca this year. His name is Con this time round and he might not have Boyle’s deceptive cunning, but the attitude is similar. Also quite funny, it has a similar appeal as Guard, so the two together would fit quite nicely. One of the most entertaining films at Tribeca this year, Guard screens again tonight (4/29) and tomorrow afternoon (4/30). Gleeson and Son’s darkly comic Noreen is definitely recommended as well. It screens as part of the Mix Tape shorts program Saturday and Sunday.