There is a line in The Guard which sums up both the brilliant fish out of water hysterics of John Michael McDonagh’s movie and the frequent underestimation of small-time folks.
Brendan Gleeson’s unorthodox underdog cop would at first seem to be out of his depth as international drug smuggling makes landfall on his bleak rural Irish community.
That line delivered by Don Cheadle’s FBI agent Everrett – “You know, I can’t tell if you’re really motherf***in’ dumb, or really motherf***in smart” is not only hilarious, but proves that no matter where you’re from, you’ve either got smarts or you haven’t.
The fact is, Boyle knows all too well; he is just not arsed, confrontational and only looking forward to his prostitute appreciating day off.
There’s more to Gleeson’s initially, couldn’t give a shit anti-hero and it’s a familiar turn from an always fascinating actor. To say Gleeson is now the go-to guy for this sort of subversive portrayal would be discourteous; he is far better than that and here he is as captivating, charismatic and equally scathing as ever. While always managing to be inexplicably hilarious; the economy of how Gleeson continues to deliver profanity is side-splitting; in no small part due to a hysterical screenplay, ingrained with riotous dialogue by McDonagh again.
Admittedly, themes of culture class and prejudice are somewhat bludgeoned in on the not so subtle undercurrent of perceptions of Americans, Irish and English, parodying convention as much as anything else, but in both language and tone it’s not really concerned with trying to upset the feelings of any one, it is a fine line but it’s clever without victimising and just as smart beneath the surface as Gleeson’s rebel.
When agent Everett arrives with Gleeson’s dissident further wrapping the knuckles when handling racial sensibilities, Cheadle adds even more mirth in a welcome deviation, the true fish out of water when handling an international scale investigation with feckless, corrupt support; forming an unlikely allegiance with Boyle to provide an unconventional but brilliant buddy cop story to bring down Mark Strong’s band of philosophical cocaine dealers.
But this is every bit Gleeson’s film, bringing further heart felt dimension to his central nonconformist, with a sickly mammy played by Fionulla Flanagan showing that this rogue has a care.
An Olympic swimming fourth place (?) and a chequered past tells of just how literally and metaphorically equipped this caustic minnow is at swimming with the narcotic peddling sharks.
The Guard is immensely entertaining and hilarious, with Gleeson proving never judge an underdog by his grizzled cover – he’ll bite your ankles!