The Guard is a shaggy-man character study, its subject a fiftysomething policeman in West Ireland, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson). No by-the-book cop, Boyle spends his days off romping with hookers, and has no qualms about gulping MDMA from the pockets of a freshly dead teenager—he also displays a proletarian literary bent, visits his ailing mum to cheer her with pained jocularity, and, unlike his better-turned-out colleagues, holds himself to an unorthodox-but-unbendable code of honor. As an FBI agent visiting to intercept a massive drug drop, Don Cheadle is on hand to straight-man, and to instruct the audience to grudgingly appreciate Boyle for what he is, despite his racial ribbing of the Don Rickles all-in-good-fun school (“I’m Irish, sir, racism is a part of me culture,” Boyle announces). One senses that The Guard is McDonagh’s eulogy for the brusque, warts-and-all character of a passing generation of tough, working-class Irishmen, much as Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino was for vintage Americanism. But McDonagh’s film eschews any pretense of social reality for cinematographic fancifulness and too-clever-by-half dialogue, much of it from a trio of drug-smugglers livening up Boyle’s jurisdiction with homicides. As Cheadle drifts around a vaguely thought-through role, The Guard bets everything on Gleeson’s boyish twinkle—and tends to overestimate its own raffish charm.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2011