“Guarda” in Irish Gaelic means “police.” So the title of this movie is really “The Cop.” The titular character is Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), a cynical small-town police officer who loves only a few things: swimming in the ocean, large quantities of booze, his dying mother, two bawdy whores, and a strange young boy who rides his bicycle on the coastal roads. He does not like doing cp things, and he hates his supervisors in the police force, so the less he can deal with them the better, but the more he can irritate them the happier he is.
When a stuck-up black FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives in County Galway to get local law enforcement help in finding an international drug smuggling ring, Sgt. Boyle gets all his obnoxious buttons puxhed. He’s not crazy about Americans or FBI agents and like everybody else in Ireland, he certainly doesn’t like black men. He needles agent Everett without mercy and treats him like he’s an escapee from an American ghetto movie. “Of course, I’m racist,” he retorts to Everett. “I’m Irish, it’s part of my culture.”
Agent Everett has the class to ignore Boyle’s insults. For the rest of us, once we get over the shock, what Sgt. Boyle says–and does–becomes hilarious. For Boyle, offending Agent Everett is merely another way to amuse himself, just like seeing his two fun-loving whores in town on his day off.
Life is not all fun and games for Sgt. Boyle, however. His beloved mother, Edith Boyle (the preternaturally lovely Fionnula Flanagan) is dying in a retirement home. Then his new partner, an overeager rookie from Dublin, turns up missing after his first night on the job. The rookie’s lovely wife, Gabriela McBride, pleads with Sgt. Boyle to find him. At first dismissive, Boyle eventually fears the rookie may be in trouble. Then slowly, as the story builds in suspense, Boyle comes to suspect that maybe the stupid FBI agent’s wild theories about drug smugglers might have merit.
Indeed, there are drug smugglers and they’re a sorry, nasty lot, including the always watchable, English actor Mark Strong. And they’re also hilarious. While trying to decide if one of them is a psychopath or a sociopath (they don’t know the difference), they argue about the merits of Nietzche versus Bertrand Russell. Philosophy-spouting gangsters, a lyrically offensive cop, an FBI agent with a professorial bent, and minor characters who all know how to combine words into memorable sentences–The Guard is a word-lover’s feast.
The Guard is so full of quirky, believable characters and their verbiage is so funny that you can be forgiven for thinking this movie is a comedy. It’s not, it’s a thriller that happens to often be funny. The humor is intrinsic to the characters, not imposed on the story to show how clever the filmmakers are, as is often the case with Coen Brothers films, with whom The Guard has been compared. Speaking of brothers…The Guard director/writer is John Michael McDonagh, whose brother is Martin McDonahg, who directed and wrote the brilliant 2008 crime story, In Bruges, in which Brendan Gleeson also starred .
While Sgt. Boyle is trying to be as lazy as possible. Agent Everett is off trying to show everyone how thorough the FBI is. Alas, he’s in County Galway, which is part of the Gaeltach, where people speak Gaelic and pretend not to understand English. And they certainly won’t talk to an English speaking foreigner, an American no less, who happens to be black and is going door to door hiding under an absurd umbrella. FBI school did not train Agent Everett to understand a strange world like this Gaeltach. It also didn’t teach him to be suspicious of seemingly unsophisticated Irish law officers. So it’s not until Sgt. Boyle figures out what’s happening that Agent Everett comes to finally his sparring partner. “I don’t know if you’re a **** genius or a **** idiot,” he says to Boyle, but since everybody else is either a crook or on the take, they’re stuck with one another. And God help the bad guys who come into their line of fire.
Please note: If you’re sensitive to foul language, you should notice the film’s rating. The F-word is said over a 100 times. I didn’t count, someone else did. The word was so ubiquitous, and truthfully seemed so germane to the characters’ speech patterns, that after a few minutes I didn’t even notice the word.
There are a few lines spoken in Gaelic for which English subtitles are provided. However, the English spoken in the film is heavily accented Irish. Which means it’s highly likely you will not understand every single word. That’s okay. You’ll get the gist of everything. And wanting to understand every single word is a good reason to want to see The Guard again, when it comes out on DVD. Something I am definitely planning to do.