The Guard

Years back I flew into Galway, Ireland on an Aer Lingus jet from JFK. The airport is nothing special – I mean it is definitely and decidedly functional – however, the overnight flight was on time, the luggage came out in a timely manner, I met my tour group, and off we went. But what stayed with me, is that as you are leaving the Galway airport, you’re going to remember those trees. The Palm trees.

Yes, palm trees. Unexpected? Of course. Palm trees are not what you’d expect to see on this island country which is far closer to the North Pole than the equator. But that is Ireland for you. It is the land of The Unexpected.

You don’t go to a film about cops and the FBI and drugs expecting jokes about race. But that’s what you get in the new and unexpectedly good film called The Guard. Of course when Brendan Gleeson’s character, the Irish cop or garda in question, Sergeant Gerry Boyle, replies to Don Cheadle’s FBI man, Special Agent Wendell Everett – about the inappropriate and decidedly racial slurs that were just made, this is what Boyle says, “I’m Irish sir. Racism is part of my culture.”

Yes – unexpected. As offensive as much of what Boyle says throughout the film – you simply cannot take it simply at face value. Is it a send-up of Irish racial perspectives, or is it the end result of Ireland’s isolation, or might it be a statement or commentary on the Americanization of Ireland? Though there’s an ocean between physical Ireland and physical North America – sometimes it seems that the distance is no wider than Boston’s Charles River, or Dublin’s River Liffey.

We, just like Agent Everett, struggle to get a handle on Sgt. Boyle. He seems to be both ends of a yardstick – he lives his life as fully as he can. At one end, he imbibes, gobbles down tabs of LSD, whores around, and it seems like his corrupt cop persona also includes a head as empty as that now empty glass, or jar of whiskey that he just polished off. On the other end of the stick he’s a melancholy Irishman. His Mum is dying of cancer, and he must bear not only the weight of that but he must also consider how heavy that cloak of vice he wears is, as well as his willingness to wear it. How does he not brood – the answer is that he parties, and he’s also a damned fine copper. Make that a ‘fookin’ good cop.’

Cheadle’s urbane agent is not a ‘bro’ out of a hood – ‘No, I didn’t grow up in the projects. I was a child of privilege.’ His private prep school education led him straight into Yale. Here, in the west of Ireland, he has the privilege of partnering with Gleeson’s Boyle as they attempt to prevent a 5 hundred million dollar shipment (that’s half a billion dollars, lads, as we’re told more than once) of drugs from reaching the UK.

L-R: Wilmot, Cunningham & Strong

The drug guys are played by Liam Cunningham, Marc Strong, and David Wilmot. These are not any kind of mustache-twirling card-board villains, nor are they the bumbling crooks that we saw in Home Alone. No sir – these guys do show us a proper amount of menace – we should be scared of them – even as they discuss the collegial aspects of torture. Or when one of this terrible trio calls another a psychopath, he’s immediately corrected – that’s sociopath, not psychopath.

Which is again – an unexpected – and totally different side to your usual drug merchants. You will laugh out loud when they, the drug guys, have a discussion about philosophers.

“So who’s your favorite philosopher?”

Bertrand Russell.

Fookin’ Brit. Why is it always the fookin’ Brits?

He’s not a Brit. He’s Welsh.

Didn’t think the Welsh produced anything good.

Um … Dylan Thomas.

As I said…”

They’re marvelous – that is when you can understand them. In a film filled with the Irish brogues, not one of which has anything like a lilt to it. Cunningham’s Francis Sheehy is the one with the brogue that comes off as nearly beyond my understanding – and it is English that’s he’s speaking. Okay maybe not the Queen’s English. Strong’s character is the British drug dealer, and even his speech is difficult. While Wilmot is the easiest to understand, and he just might be a whimsical leprechaun in a man’s body, yet he is the trigger-man of the trio. While he’s holding a gun on Boyle, his eyes are almost a-twinkle.

While you may cringe at some of Boyle’s more drastic and ill-informed perceptions of Blacks, that won’t stop you from laughing out loud from start to finish. Everett doesn’t do slow burns, and most of the time, he doesn’t he give back some of what he just got. He’s neither befuddled nor bemused. He’s just puzzled. He says of Gerry Boyle – “I can’t tell if you’re really dumb, or really smart.”

And that’s the charm of this movie. Neither can we. One more thing – this film has an open ended-ness that only adds to its allure. The unexpected once again. Might mean a sequel. Maybe. Maybe not.

2 thoughts on “The Guard

  1. I completely disagree! We know very well that Boyle is very smart. And an Olympic-quality swimmer. (Or maybe that’s just more of his blarney. But still: smart.)

    You know what I was surprised to find? I was unpersuaded by Cheadle’s acting job. I didn’t mind that he was the straight man to Gleeson’s unpredictable Boyle; I just thought he hadn’t figured out how to play the role just right. I was surprised, as I’ve always liked and have believed his acting in the past. What do you think?

  2. Cheadle did low key this role. Agreed. The problem may have been his acting or it may have been the narrowness of the role. He really hadn’t much to work with.

    First he didn’t care for Boyle perceptions – and then he couldn’t be effective as an investigator cuz the locals wouldn’t talk to him. So his role gave him no opportunity to show some range.

    Whether we thought we knew Boyle was smart is one thing. When we knew it is another.


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