Back in the early 80s producer Joel Silver devised a simple formula for success: you take a white guy and a black guy with completely different backgrounds, give them a mystery to solve together, have them take part in a few action sequences, say a couple of funny lines, and then you rake in the cash. The method worked for years, as films like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, and more went on to have incredible box office success. Now writer/director John Michael McDonagh has taken that formula, given it an Irish twist, and created one of the best comedies of the year.
Featuring great turns by its stars, terrific chemistry between its leads and an unorthodox approach to a familiar set-up, The Guard is a screamingly hilarious comedy with heart. Taking an equal-opportunity-offender approach, the film is a dark comedy in every sense of the word, but everyone will be too busy laughing to care about the boundaries being pushed.
The story centers on Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), a police officer who serves in the West of Ireland. Upon learning that a team of three international drug smugglers (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot) are in town, Boyle is forced to team up with an FBI agent named Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) in order to bring them to justice. Though they resist working with each other at first, Boyle and Everett are unified after witnessing a wave of corruption, bribery and blackmail and refuse to back down until the job is done.
The greatest reason for the film’s success is the pairing and dynamic between Gleeson and Cheadle. Because their characters are so deftly written and layered, all aspects of Boyle and Everett’s personalities bounce off each other perfectly without ever feeling like a tired Odd Couple shtick. From Boyle’s casual racism to Everett’s wealthy upbringing; Boyle’s lack of worldliness to Everett’s fish-out-of-water situation, everything about the two is crafted with purpose and makes the film all the funnier.
Beyond the script, however, The Guard’s entire cast also gives amazing performances. As Boyle, Gleeson is required not only to be a bit of a schlub who, but, thanks to scenes with his dying mother, also a good and responsible man. The range shown in each actor’s performance is absolutely brilliant. The film’s real scene stealer, though, is Mark Strong as a criminal who has become bored by what he does. Strong has been frequently typecast as the stereotypical villain in the last few years and here he shows that he can play deep and complex characters when given the right material.
Because of John Michael McDonagh’s relationship to Martin McDonagh – they’re brothers – and the fact that both films star Brendan Gleeson, The Guard is likely to earn a lot of comparisons to In Bruges, which isn’t entirely unfair. Both movies aim for the same audience, have similar senses of humor and adroitly mix darker character and story elements with hysterical ones. There are, of course, some sections of the audience that won’t take kindly to McDonagh’s brazen and unabashed approach to comedy, but those that are appreciate irreverent humor and like feeling a little bad when they laugh are going to absolutely love The Guard.