An Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) whose methods are rather unorthodox and an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who plays it by the book team up stop drug smugglers trying to move an astonishingly large amount of cocaine into Connemara.
Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (this is his directing debut; a few years back he wrote the script for Ned Kelly) has done the impossible: he’s made one of only two great buddy-cop movies since Lethal Weapon 2 seemingly closed the book on the genre (Hot Fuzz being the other). He didn’t do it by reinventing the genre--The Guard plays by the rules at nearly every turn and features a decidedly familiar plot--but instead distinguishes the movie through wit and genuinely funny dialogue, characters, and situations.
Furthermore, he coaxed from Brendan Gleeson the sort of performance that should win every award imaginable but likely won’t because this isn’t a (read the following in the most contemptuous way possible) prestige or Oscar-bait flick. This is one of the past year’s most unabashedly entertaining movies, so unabashedly entertaining I wish I didn’t have to point out the couple things that bothered me.
You know how these things go: Gleeson and Cheadle (who also helped produce the movie) don’t want to work together but are forced to work together, and it turns out they make a pretty good team. This despite the fact Cheadle is straitlaced and stuffy (until you get a couple drinks him, anyway) and Gleeson likes hookers, is brazenly insubordinate, and searches suspects for hits of acid to pilfer. But Cheadle, for all his smarts, is in over his head (he goes in unaware most of the region’s residents don’t speak English) and Gleeson knows what’s going on, so put them together and they make an effective team (even if Gleeson does keep making racially insensitive comments and queries).
So, yeah, it follows the template that’s been around forever. There’s nothing here in terms of form you haven’t already seen in Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., Midnight Run, what have you. Like those movies, though, it’s the details that count here, and they’re pretty great details. Unlike, say, Another 48 Hrs., The Hard Way, National Security, Starsky & Hutch, or (ugh) Cop Out, The Guard is actually clever and funny.
This is far and away the funniest movie of 2011 (I know that doesn’t sound like much, as many of last year’s comedies sucked, but I really mean it), full of gags and one-liners that actually work. (There’s a line about erections I fully expect to work its way into the vernacular, and one about a potted plant that has a good chance.) The people who populate Gleeson’s district are entertainingly weird without being unnecessarily or egregiously quirky.
The relationship between Gleeson and Cheadle even manages to be endearing, which is no small feat for something that unfolds exactly as you know it will. Hell, even the bit of action at the end doesn’t come across as the same old thing; McDonagh (the brother of In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh, which isn’t much of a surprise) puts a bit of spin on it, embracing the cliché while simultaneously skewering it.
So what is it that bothers me? It’s the way McDonagh handles the bad guys. As has been the norm in cinema for nearly the past two decades, the villains here are, shall we say, slightly colorful. They’re the sort of guys who discuss western philosophy one minute and shoot a guy in the back the next. McDonagh handles some of this colorfulness well (Liam Cunningham, playing the ringleader, has a nice bit where he talks about being creeped out by the ambiguities in Bobbi Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”), but a lot of it is so self-consciously clever it becomes forced and unnatural.
Most of the bits that call attention to themselves are spoken by Mark Strong’s character, who sounds like a former film critic who was fired for his boring, longwinded, incomprehensibly post-modern deconstructions of everything he was forced to watch (imagine Armond White as a sociopath). This likely won’t bother some people at all (or at the very least not to the same degree), but I couldn’t help but wish McDonagh had either removed it or toned it down.
Why haven’t I said anything else about Gleeson’s performance, you ask? Because I couldn’t do it justice. Just watch the movie and see for yourself. I doubt you will disagree with what I said earlier.
The 2.35:1/1080p transfer--encoded with AVC onto a 50GB disc--replicates the slightly desaturated, slightly cold look (it is Ireland, after all) of the movie. You’ll find a lot of blues and grays here, which are offset by here-and-there bits of lush greens (it is Ireland, after all) or earthy browns.
The image can get slightly soft at times, but certainly not to a severe degree; blacks could also stand to be a little better resolved, and there’s some minor moiré and aliasing in a handful of shots. Somewhat surprisingly for a low-budget movie in this day and age, The Guard was shot on film, and there’s a nice layer of fine grain to give it some texture. Detail can be quite strong in close-ups and tightly framed shots.
The sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The audio occasionally reveals the movie’s meager budget; gunshots lack power, and some of the music sounds a little thin. There’s not much in the way of directional effects or thick atmosphere; the surrounds are primarily used to open up the music (which despite what I just said can sound very, very good) and supply a smattering of ambience (cramped interiors echo nicely). Dialogue sounds good; deciphering the thick Irish accents takes come concentration, but that’s not the fault of the presentation. Aside from reinforcing the music or dialogue, the low end doesn’t do much. English and English SDH subtitles are available.
The commentary by John Michael McDonagh, Don Cheadle, and Brendan Gleeson is short on technical info but contains enough amusing behind-the-scenes stories and jokes to make you not care (or thankful).
The Making of The Guard (19 minutes, HD) is a fairly standard behind-the-scenes piece.
A selection of outtakes (3 minutes, SD) is nothing more than a glorified gag reel.
Deleted & Extended/Alternate Scenes (24 minutes, SD) offer up three scenes completely excised from the movie and a dozen that did make the final cut but are presented here in slightly longer form.
A Q&A Session (18 minutes, SD) has McDonagh, Gleeson, and Cheadle fielding questions about the movie.
The Second Death (11 minutes, SD) is a short film McDonagh made a few years back; it contains the kernel of the idea for The Guard.
Closing things out is the movie’s theatrical trailer (presented in high-def).
It doesn’t quite make everything old seem new again, but it comes close.