Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a policeman in rural Ireland whose idea of thrilling cop action is to watch boy racers crash their cars, go over to survey the damage, then help himself to any pills they might have had on them as they lie dead or unconscious in the road. But one day there is a real crime to take care of when a man is discovered murdered in a remote cottage, a bullet through his brain, a plant pot in his lap, and the number five and a half written on the wall above the body. Boyle has a new sidekick, McBride (Rory Keenan), but he's not much help...
Not to a man who doesn't suffer fools gladly, but is Boyle himself as much of a fool as he actually seems? The Guard was one of the most successful Irish films ever, mostly thanks to the fanbase that In Bruges had enjoyed and many flocked to this hoping for the same kind of laughs. Why In Bruges? Because this was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of the writer of that film, and they both starred one of the best exponents of the rumpled, world-weary, middle aged man in acting, Gleeson. Thus comparisons were made, but if anything this was the better film, not by much, but in its ramshackle way this was a complete success.
It was assembled like a shaggy dog story, so it was no coincidence that for a lot of this it came across like a yarn being spun to you as you sat in the pub by a raconteur especially skilled at commanding the room. In essence it was an Irish version of the Hollywood buddy movie which would often feature mismatched cops, but McDonagh was well aware of how clichéd that would appear, so did his best to undercut every old convention in a way that commented on the country's preoccupation with entertainment from the other side of the Atlantic. This may have been a rough and ready comic set up of Don Cheadle's straightlaced FBI agent flailing in his investigation, but it was not content to lazily recycle all the stuff you'd seen before.
Yes, it was predictable that Boyle and Cheadle's Wendell Everett would not get on, but this was more complex than that. Boyle's trouble was that he was not as stupid and irresponsible as he appeared, and as we see in the scenes with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan) he is actually quite a lonely man, and only going to be lonelier once she dies so no amount of drugs, drink and prostitutes are going to ease that condition. Thus he is in the perfect situation to prove his integrity, as he will be the only one willing to stand up to the corruption he sees around him and the criminals who have such influence he won't last long when he does make that stand. Gleeson fed that sadness into his portrayal, but there was more to him.
This was a comedy, after all, and the star was truly hilarious as he blankly makes amusing observations, acts eccentrically, and generally proves a thorn in the side of all those he has to deal with - lawmakers as well as lawbreakers. What was particularly satisfying was McDonagh twigged that underneath these police procedural movies he was simultaneously sending up and indulging was another genre, the Western, and if you didn't latch onto that when you heard Calexico's soundtrack playing, the grand finale where Boyle proves his worth would definitely make you realise that was what they were getting at. Before that, here was proof that it was possible to take a fresh approach to a style that could have easily been tired, and much of that was down to the disparity between what Wendell is used to in the States and what Boyle was used to in West Ireland. The fact that even a half a billion dollars worth of drug smuggling could be cut down to size there was a source of much of the satisfaction.
[Studio Canal's DVD has a bunch of extras, including a making of, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes and even a whole other (short) film.]