I know that this may seem like a tangent, but bear with me. You know how you have that friend who thinks he’s cool and tries really hard to be cool, only to come off as desperate? You know the guy: he repeats overused lines he’s heard from TV, emulates what everybody else is doing and always manages to go overboard.
The reason I bring this up is because The Guard is that friend. It really thinks it’s cool, but it’s really not.
The Guard centers around Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleason), a crass small-town cop who uses drugs (for recreational use), is constantly intoxicated and finds solace in the arms of hookers. When a gang of violent international drug smugglers tears through his small Irish town and kill his partner, he must pair up with straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) and figure their way out of a mystery that involves corruption, trafficking, murder and blackmail.
Seemingly afraid of producing yet another buddy cop flick, writer/director John Michael McDonagh tried to infuse a hodgepodge of genre tropes and gloss it over with a fresh paint of indie aesthetic. Because of this balancing act, plot and character development often fall short, resulting in a shallow experience that is merely a string of pretty sequences. The issue is not the lack of plot or terrible pace, but rather the fact that it exchanges these things for ideas and characters that aren’t really that interesting (read: cool).
The biggest fault lies with the character of Sgt. Boyle (Gleeson’s character). The whole movie is essentially built around this character, banking on the hope that you find him cool, whacky and charming. What happens though is Sgt. Boyle becomes this 12 year old’s perverse idea of what cool is, resulting in a tame character that says crass things just to say it. For instance, one of the biggest running jokes is the fact that Sgt. Boyle has never met a black man, so he constantly pokes fun at Don Cheadle’s character with these tame overused stereotypes of fried chicken, forty ounces and living on the streets of Compton. It’s not that these stereotypes are offensive, but rather that they are so tame and elementary. Combine that with traits of apathy, a self destructive nature and lewd behavior and you’ve got this hokey character that is about as dated as an Andrew Dice Clay routine. This also extends out to the rest of the characters, from the cursing child to the pot smoking mother, all play out like humorless eccentricities the writer must’ve thought was original and brilliant.
That’s not to say Brendan Gleeson does an awful job. Quite unbelievably, he takes this loathsome character and manages to remain charming and subtle throughout the film, pulling in a meaningful performance in the final quarter of the film. When Gleeson’s not being an ass or the movie equivalent to Duke Nukem Forever, he actually pulls off some bad ass cowboy sh*t for what are fairly decent action scenes. Likewise, the three drug dealers are so maniacal and self referential that you couldn’t help but not like them. As for Don Cheadle, he essentially plays the same role as in Iron Man, except he exchanges an awesome mechanical suit for a horrendously tacky shirt and tie.
All in all, The Guard is clearly an attempt to impress the indie crowd with how cool and hip it thinks it is. While it looks good and has a great sense of self awareness and respect of the genres, at the end of the day its uninteresting plot and generic caricatures make it a half baked film. I can see the potential in writer/director John Michael McDonagh and can somehow feel his adoration for the cinema, but The Guard simply comes off as a desperate attempt to separate from the crowd.