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The Crime-Fighting Irish

The Guard (2011)

Sony Pictures Classics

“The Guard” is that rare breed of crime story that involves a passive protagonist, à la “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It’s not that the protagonist in “The Guard,” Brendan Gleeson’s Sgt. Boyle, apathetically takes a backseat as events unfold. He is simply more occupied with cracking wise, cavorting with prostitutes and tending to his dying mother than actually solving the case at hand. It is quite an achievement, then, that writer-director John Michael McDonagh manages to calculatingly frustrate and engage viewers simultaneously through the duration of the film.

Things get rolling after Dublinite Garda McBride (Rory Keenan) reports to his new post in sleepy Galway and discovers the dead body of a smuggler. The prudish McBride serves as the perfect contrast to Boyle, who is unorthodox in every way imaginable — from acid tripping on the job to tainting crime scene evidence to spewing politically incorrect barbs at Don Cheadle’s FBI agent Wendell Everett, dispatched from Atlanta to investigate a drug trafficking case. Of course, none of Boyle’s antics would raise an eyebrow if you’ve seen “Bad Lieutenant.” What’s startling here is Mr. McDonagh’s utterly cynical depiction of law enforcement in Ireland — and we’re not just talking about moral ambiguity; indeed every authority figure besides Everett seems to have a working relationship with the dealers, and Boyle is evidently no exception.

It’s hard to say whether Boyle’s eventual change of heart has more to do with self-preservation than with any visceral reactions to personal or professional tragedies that struck along the way. Following a surprisingly conventional climax, “The Guard” concludes in an open-ended fashion. Given the way Mr. McDonagh intentionally vexes viewers throughout with a protagonist who is less emotionally invested in the story than is perhaps the audience, it’s really not surprising that the film ultimately finishes on such an anticlimactic note.


Opens on July 29 in New York and Los Angeles and on Aug. 19 in Britain.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh; director of photography, Larry Smith; edited by Chris Gill; music by Calexico; production design by John Paul Kelly; costumes by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh; produced by Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Brendan Gleeson (Sgt. Gerry Boyle), Don Cheadle (Wendell Everett), Liam Cunningham (Francis Sheehy), David Wilmot (Liam O’Leary), Rory Keenan (Aidan McBride), Mark Strong (Clive Cornell), Fionnula Flanagan (Eileen Boyle), Dominique McElligott (Aoife) and Sarah Green (Sinead).


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