Review: The Guard

John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard is a joyous explosion of brilliant dialogue, inspired characters and energetic narration that begs to be loved over and over again.

brendan gleeson, the guard,

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Writer/director John Michael McDonagh concocts a motor-mouth character study hung from the rafters of high concept genre cinema with an irresistibly immersive black humour that makes every scene in The Guard an absolute delight. Brendan Gleeson, fresh from his dazzling performance in the film In Bruges (made by McDonagh’s brother Martin), stars as disgruntled small-town cop Sergeant Gerry Boyle. The Irish native plays by his own rules and has few cares in the world. That is apart from his dying mother, who spends her final few days living in a care home, and his unhealthy penchant for kinkily-clad prostitutes from Dublin. When a drug smuggling ring arrives in town, turning the once sleepy village into a hive of activity and introducing by-the-book FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to the proceedings, Boyle is confronted with the chance to do some real police work. Whether he can be bothered is another dilemma entirely.

The Guard has been lavished with praise, winning Best Debut Film at the Berlin International Film Festival and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The film also became the most financially successful Irish film of all time in terms of box office receipts, overtaking 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley. It is easy to see why. Gleeson excels once again in a role that mixes egotistical cockiness with notes of social dysfunction that makes him both interesting and endearing, while McDonagh’s sparkling script is marked out by its regional colloquialisms that make the setting as much a part of the story as the characters that inhabit it. All the while the film’s wonderful quick-fire sarcasm and jet-black comedy infuse it with a charming if completely irreverent sense of humour that never takes its foot off the throttle.

Most appealing is Brendan Gleeson. The heavyset actor has perfected the timing of McDonagh’s tightly-constructed dialogue which is delivered with a deadpan monotone that tantalises the funny bone. He’s like a naughty schoolboy that has inhabited the body of adult man and been given the job of a police sergeant. McDonagh ensures that Gleeson’s Sergeant Boyle, who would become easily unlikeable in less capable hands, shows more humanistic qualities when visiting his dying mother. It is a worthy aside that cracks through the layers of Boyle’s quick-witted mocking which becomes his greeting card to all and sundry. It culminates in a character of genuine interest that steers clear of caricature in favour of inspired originality.

The Guard is a fabulously entertaining film that celebrates its regional identity through a central character that endears and entertains in equal measure. The film also benefits from a number of memorable scenes from an inspired stand off that deconstructs the classic Western shootout for its new setting in a suburban Irish living room to a brilliantly subversive use of the ice cream headache to conclude the sweaty tension of high stakes blackmail. There’s enough quotable lines to ensure the film will endure as a cult favourite, while an appealing cast is headed by Don Cheadle with Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham as the drug-smuggling villains. The Guard is a joyous explosion of brilliant dialogue, inspired characters and energetic narration that begs to be loved over and over again.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Written by: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, Dominique McElligott
Released: 2011 / Genre: Comedy/Drama / Country: Ireland / IMDB

Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Fitz Reply

    I really enjoyed this when I saw it in September. Brendan Gleeson deserves more leading man roles.

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    Scott Reply

    I loved this film. Really great comedy and a total blast.

    Did you get sent the check disk matey? We were supposed to go to a screening last night but were unable to attend.


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    Dan Reply

    @Fitz: Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing what Gleeson has in store next.

    @Scott: Check disc for this one, but would have liked to have seen this in the cinemas though.

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    Claire Reply

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this film, Dan. I really enjoyed it when I saw it, and I know it’ll be something that I’ll watch again and again.

    Great write up! You certainly have a way of weaving words together 😀

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    Dan Reply

    @Claire: You’re far too kind Claire…I love the fact you say “weaving words together” when really you mean “what strange grammar he has – must be something new as they’re not teaching that to kids in schools these days!” 🙂

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    Max Reply

    Everytime I read a good review for ‘The Guard’ I’m reminded by the fact I can rent it easily. I really need to get on that. Thanks for the write up, Dan.

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    AndyK Reply

    Terrific review, Dan! I’ve just got this on rental DVD, very much looking forward to watching this one!

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    ruth Reply

    Nice review, Dan. Can’t wait to see this as soon as it arrives on DVD.

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    Raghav Reply

    Ive only heard good things about this movie. People say it’s somewhat on the lines of In Bruges. Anyhow, it won’t be released here in cinema so I have to wait till the DVD, but should be an interesting watch. Good review.

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