Anyone who has seen In Bruges will know how funny Brendan Gleeson can be. Unfortunately, although he is the standout star of this film, the material is not strong enough to make it memorable.
He plays an Irish cop (they’re known as the Gardai, thus the title), called Gerry Doyle, a sergeant in the wild and woolly west of Ireland – Galway to be specific – where he can do police work his own way, far from the corruption and backbiting of the big cities. He’s overweight, drinks to excess, and imports prostitutes for his days off, but he is a moral man who doesn’t take bribes and is concerned for the welfare of the community.
Into this simple life comes Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), a black FBI agent on the trail of a huge drugs haul which is due to arrive on the coast any time soon. In fact there are three bad guys waiting for the shipment as well (Mark Strong, Lian Cunningham and David Wilmot), who have bumped off one of their own team, and have no scruples in eradicating a stray cop who stops them on the road.
In other words, it’s a kind of comedy version of In The Heat Of The Night, fuelled by the memory of In Bruges. Gerry Boyle effs and blinds throughout the film, has a caustic sense of humour, and always gets his man. This is where the problems start. His character is a romanticised ideal of an Irish original – the guy who can drink you under the table, screw two women, take a bullet, and swim in an Olympic final. Not for him the petty details of the fact that he is fat, middle aged and probably an alcoholic. Surround him with idiots, thugs and an American who will learn to love him, and he becomes the hero. It’s called pandering to your audience, which is why the film was so popular in Ireland.
And I wouldn’t have minded that if the film had been funnier, or more exciting, or anything rather than the stop start affair that it is. The script has too much going on. Boyle has a dying mother (who looks about his age); he has a grieving Croatian widow to console; he has Wendell to woo; a rookie cop from Dublin to be sarcastic to; a young kid to be fatherly to; and the bad guys to catch. And these various scenes don’t really gel. The film simply moves from one to another while we adjust to what new mood we’re meant to be experiencing. Should we be laughing, crying, or biting our nails? Or waiting for something interesting to happen?
The comparison with In Bruges may be unfair, but is inevitable, since The Guard shares a star playing a similar role, and is written and directed by the brother of the guy of made In Bruges. But whereas that savage and hilarious film offered us a lot of good things – tragedy, grief, fear and laughs among others – The Guard has no hidden depths. What we see is what we get, and there isn’t a lot of it. The main point of the film is summed up by Everett early in the film when he says to Boyle “I can’t tell if you’re motherfucking smart or motherfucking dumb.” The point of course being that Gerry plays dumb and is much smarter, but whether that’s enough reason for a whole film is another matter. You’ll have to make up your own mind, but keep your expectations low.