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Catching Up on 2011: The Guard

I had pretty much finished putting together my Best Films of 2011 list when I saw The Guard, but the film was so good that I had to rework my list to add it in!  I noted in my list that The Guard was the last addition, and that I’d be writing more about the film soon.  That time has come!

This little Irish film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, and features Brendan Gleeson in the role of his career as the Irish Garda (policeman) Gerry Boyle.  Gerry has created a fine if unremarkable life for himself as the apparent master of a teensy little corner of Ireland.  He knows the people — both his fellow cops and the various criminals — and he knows the land.  But much larger problems land on his doorstep when a gang of drug-smugglers arrive, leading to murders and the involvement of the FBI, personified by the by-the-book agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle).  The two wildly different men are oil and water, but they must pool their efforts in order to stop the bad guys.

Yes, it’s a buddy-cop movie, but a deliriously unique, off-color one!

Mr. Gleeson commands the screen with his presence.  The gruff, profane, incredibly un-PC Doyle is an astounding creation, and without question one of the finest acting performances of the year.  (No surprise, Mr. Gleeson was entirely ignored by the Academy.)  But who cares about the Oscars — we have this film and what more do we need.  Mr. Gleeson is an absolute riot to watch — Doyle is blunt and to the point, always saying what he’s thinking no matter how many feathers he ruffles.  In fact, he positively delights in the ruffling of feathers — the more the merrier, particularly if he’s dealing with anyone who could be considered an authority figure.  He says some completely outrageous things in the film — particularly to the African-American Agent Everett.  But the twinkle in Mr. Gleeson’s eye makes clear that Doyle is only saying those things to get a reaction out of whoever he’s speaking to.  It’s his way of testing the measure of the people around him, be they cop or criminal.  He’s a small-town hick, but he’s more than happy to play up that cliche image of himself if it serves his purpose.  He is honest and noble, but willing to bend the rules of procedure without a second thought in order to do what he feels is right.  Doyle is a magnificent character, and Mr. Gleeson has never been better.

Don Cheadle has the far less showy job as the straight-man, but although his is a quieter, more subtle performance, it’s integral to the success of the film.  Mr. Gleeson might power right over a lesser actor, but Mr. Cheadle creates in Agent Everett a worthy foil for Doyle, and the two actors have a marvelous chemistry.  The film really comes to life when the two men are going at it.

There are some fine actors in supporting roles, including Mark Strong (Body of Lies, Syrianna, Sherlock Holmes, and Kick Ass) as one of the drug-dealers, and Fionnula Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine, and Eloise Hawking on Lost) as Boyle’s elderly mother.  But this show really belongs to Mr. Cheadle and Mr. Gleeson, and they are positively electric together.

Track this film down, I implore you.  It’s a wonderfully unique creation, funny and tense and pretty much tremendous all the way through.

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