Filmmaker John Michael McDonagh proves his talent for casting with his first feature, the lively, often funny, always thrilling Irish crime comedy The Guard. Burly Brendan Gleeson is Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a rural Irish policeman whose bigoted ways and laidback habits rub his visiting partner, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), the wrong way. Gleeson and Cheadle spark onscreen and McDonagh makes the most of their battling and banter in this fresh spin on the buddy/cop formula. For McDonagh, who's best known for his screenplay for the Heath Ledger film Ned Kelly, The Guard introduces him as a filmmaker with a strong talent for commercial storytelling as well as evident technical skills behind the camera. The Guard has the potential to play wide like past Sony Picture Classics hits Capote and Kung Fu Hustle. More importantly, The Guard introduces McDonagh as a comic director to anticipate.
Sgt. Boyle may be an unprofessional has-been in the eyes of his superiors (and visiting FBI Agent Everett) but he knows his way around his home, the rural Connemara region of Ireland. Boyle also has the local contacts and good instincts to see through false leads and capture a drug-smuggling gang who are using Western Ireland as an entry point to the UK.
McDonagh wisely emphasizes the growing respect between Boyle and Everett as much as the detective work and blazing gunfire. The Guard may be a formula movie but McDonagh does wonders with the familiar character types and action climax.
Gleeson, last seen in the arthouse release Perrier's Bounty, balances his physical heft and gravely voice with a delicate touch for comedy. Despite his down-and-dirty habits (drink, prostitutes) Sgt. Boyle has a twinkle in his eye and an irresistible personality. Cheadle thrives as the stiff FBI Agent who learns that good law officers come in all shapes and sizes. Mark Strong makes the most of his supporting role as a drug smuggler with his own set of business ethics.
Editor Chris Gill maintains a swift pace up to the film's satisfying finish but the film's standout achievements remains its cast and McDonagh's script. Dialogue this fun should be repeated over and over again. This is a great chance for Sony Classics to start a relationship with McDonagh. He's a filmmaker with a bright future in smart adult comedies and audience-friendly movies. The Guard may be a tweak on Hollywood formula but it's far better than any recent Hollywood attempts at the buddy/cop comedy.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan
Director/Screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh
Producers: Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe
Rating: R for pervasive language, some violence, drug material and sexual content
Running Time: 96 min.
Release date: July 22 NY/LA