By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
At one point, Don Cheadle says to Brendan Gleeson, “I can’t tell if you’re really (bleeping) dumb or really (bleeping) smart.”
As for the movie they’re in, it’s much more the latter than the former. So let’s call it really (bleeping) good.
The Guard (Irish parlance for cop, from the Gaelic “Garda”) is a darkly comic Irish thriller set in rural Galway, on Ireland’s west coast, where a small-town cop is rarely confronted with big-time crime.
Witness, for example, his involvement with illegal substances and prostitutes. Or his “playful” racism, his way of exhibiting prejudice even as he delivers a commentary on the attitudes of those around him. This is “Dirty Gerry” to Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry.”
Which brings us to Don Cheadle — also serving as one of the film’s executive producers — as by-the-book African-American FBI agent Wendell Everett, who, on the heels of a local murder that appears to be the work of an occult serial killer, has come to Galway on the trail of a smuggling ring suspected of moving $500 million worth of Colombian cocaine.
Another murder and then other crimes follow, and Boyle and Everett find themselves working together as monumentally mismatched partners who might need to turn themselves into a heroic odd couple of law enforcers.
Gleason and Cheadle help make this buddy flick percolate (well, it’s really more of an anti-buddy flick, with its nose-thumbing at the usual conventions of the genre), especially when Cheadle, as Gleeson’s foil, trots out his killer deadpan as he reacts to the outrageous proclamations, including the racial ramblings, of his new associate.
Debuting writer-director John Michael McDonagh — whose brother Martin, another one of the executive producers, directed In Bruges, also starring Gleason — has written a script that is abundantly profane and undeniably violent, perhaps to a fault on both counts, as he tips his cap to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction a few too many times in the philosophical conversations among his crooks (Laim Dunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot).
But familiarity breeds contentment rather than contempt in this particular case, and McDonagh delivers a strangely cheerful noirish entertainment.
The chief pleasure here is the playing of Gleeson and his interplay with the reliable Cheadle. Gleeson, a prolific international treasure, often manages to be simultaneously funny and fearsome and flabbergasting. Here as well. His Boyle is an intimidatingly blustery but slyly skillful policeman, as subversively witty as he is politically incorrect as he is endlessly resourceful.
He’s also a Bad Sergeant whose flaunting of just about everything recalls and challenges the Bad Lieutenant hypocrisy and bravado of Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage.
So we’ll police 2½ stars out of 4 for a decidedly derivative but fairly funny and adroitly arresting salt-and-pepper police thriller.
No need for too much changing of The Guard. This one will do.