Writer-Director John Michael McDonagh has said of his film, “The Guard is a Western.” Well, the problem is that it’s also trying to be a black comedy, a buddy cop film, a fish-out-of-water tale, a conspiracy mystery, a world-weary cop’s redemption story and a whole slew of other genres.
Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a police officer in the Irish town of Galway. Despite presiding over a rather sleepy burg, he’s Seen It All—he plays with the genitals of a corpse of a man murdered in serial killer fashion and seems unfazed when a major drug cartel is rumored to be in town to smuggle half a billion dollars of drugs. He’s forced out of his blasé attitude when the FBI comes to town to bust the drug ring, a naive rookie cop is murdered and the victim’s beautiful Croatian wife asks him for assistance. Don Cheadle plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, a smart, by-the-book investigator who needs Boyle’s local knowledge, but doesn’t know if he’ll prove a help or a loose cannon—until, as you’d expect, they find common ground and mutual respect over drinks.
Enter some philosophizing bad guys who argue over Nietzsche, a sweet prostitute, a dying mother and a concluding shoot-out and you have a mess of a film. Gleeson and Cheadle are likable as always but the writing is uneven and the tone scattershot. At one moment, we’re meant to be giggling at seeing Boyle in his underpants when he answers the door, at other points, we’re meant to be enthralled by a gun battle and at other points, we’re meant to be intimidated by bad guys who look into the screen and say, “I like sharks.” The film lacks the cohesion and edge of more successful genre-hoppers like Hot Fuzz or In Bruges (written by McDonagh’s brother Martin). The plot is too easy—and with jokes falling flat, we miss the pathos and tension all the more. We know Boyle will regain his interest in life and redemption. We know that Boyle and Everett will be buddies and that the bad guys will get caught in the end. The pleasure should therefore be in the mechanics and in this case, they feel schematic and at the service of a half-baked comedy.
Opens July 29