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Ire. 2010. 96mins Director/screenplay John Michael McDonagh Production companies Reprisal Films, Element Pictures, Culture Ireland, Prescience, Aegis Film Fund, UK Film Council, Crescendo Productions, Irish Film Board International sales Metropolis International Sales Producers Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe Cinematography Larry Smith Editor Chris Gill Music Calexico Main cast Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Dominique McElligott, Rory Keenan


The portrait of a quirky rebel cop is at the core of an odd-couple buddy film in John Michael McDonagh’s impressive debut fea- ture, The Guard. As a flabby policeman with a mind of his own, Brendan Gleeson broadens his acting range, delightfully, once again in this black comedy. The Guard will win over English-speaking audiences with its

zinger lines from McDonagh’s script and deft casting in all the roles. Don Cheadle as Gleeson’s straight man from the FBI should help the film in the US market. If subtitles could capture speed and scatology of the dialogue, the film could reach a pub- lic in Europe and Asia. Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, whose caustic candour

has cost him a few promotions. His mother is dying, and he hires prostitutes to dress up as railway conductors. His response to violence is a deadpan shrug, and he consumes the drugs he finds in the pockets of crash corpses. McDonagh’s script, like his hero, is devoid of sentimentality.

Boyle thinks in crude racial stereo types, which stymies his col- laboration with the FBI agent (Cheadle) who is sent to track down drug smugglers. “I thought black people couldn’t ski — or is that swimming?” he asks. As a director, McDonagh avoids the grand gesture and

focuses on his web of odd characters that call to mind the com- edies of Preston Sturges — the strait-laced FBI man, local cops on the take who outdo Boyle himself in their cynicism, murder- ous philosophical drug dealers, and a young boy with a bicycle who turns up everywhere. Gleeson is the Falstaff of this ensemble — a fashion victim

(even when barely dressed); a bewildered dutiful son to his foul- mouthed mother and a non-stop observer of human corruptibil- ity, especially when there’s a dead body. The sergeant also spouts cinema satire as the Dirty Harry/

Popeye Doyle of Connemara battles crooked cops, and Gleeson and Cheadle parody the formulaic ‘buddy shtick’ of the Lethal Weapon films. The music of Calexico (not Irish fiddles and pipes) helps build the mock-heroic feel. Besides Gleeson, the strength of The Guard is the wit of John

Michael McDonagh (brother of Martin, who executive-pro- duced). You hear the laugh lines in all his characters except Cheadle’s FBI agent, who carries too much boilerplate for a film which manages to get a rise out of so many familiar ingre- dients. Cinematographer Larry Smith gives the picture enough of the ruggedness and fog of the west of Ireland without turning it into a tourist brochure. As McDonagh makes clear, it is the people who matter in this landscape.

n 26 Screen International in Berlin February 13, 2011

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