Wednesday Night (17th June) saw the launch of the Edinburgh International Film Festival with the screening of The Guard at The Festival Theatre. So, just how good a choice was this dark Irish comedy for the Festival’s opening night?
Brendan Gleeson’s almost made a career of making scene-stealing performances in the scores of movies, both big and small, he’s starred in. Whether playing the sidekick in Braveheart, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or In Bruges, there’s something inexplicably appealing about the mixture of authority and charm he brings.
Despite this, he has few starring roles in films, at least big ones. Thankfully, The Guard‘s writer and director John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges writer Martin McDonagh), saw fit to cast him as the film’s central character, Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a small town police officer on the West Coast of Ireland.
The film sees Boyle team up with FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) after intelligence points to a group of international drug dealers operating in the area.
Boyle is a rural Irish police officer with no time for formalities or political correctness. Everett is a straight-laced, by-the-book agent, completely dedicated to his job. Thus begins the kind of buddy cop relationship we’ve seen a thousand times before.
Only we haven’t quite seen it like this before. What is quite surprising about the film is the fact that the two main characters spend so little time on screen with one another. Instead, it is through their individual investigations we begin to see they have more in common than at first appeared.
What is also surprising is that Gleeson has not been cast in these kind of central roles more often. He completely lights up the screen as Sergeant Boyle, a man with questionable methods, but who completely understands the community he is dealing with, and who obviously loves his role within it.
The film succeeds in its ability to find comedy in almost every scene without descending into farce or letting its central characters become too cartoonish.
Arguably, and unlike In Bruges, its more tender moments don’t quite hit the mark. Whether that is a subplot about Boyle’s sick mother, or through Boyle’s relationship with a recently widowed immigrant. For me, it served only to show us Boyle’s humanity, as opposed to telling us something deeper about the nature of the problems Boyle and the characters around him have to deal with.
Despite this, it’s difficult to criticise The Guard too much, as it is a film much like its central character: crude, rough around the edges, but ultimately a lot of fun to be around.