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The Guard - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Guard
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Racism isn't usually all that funny. Even Archie Bunker's bigotry probably wouldn't play so well today as it did in the seventies. But somehow, change the cultural context, and it becomes ripe for skewering. Brendan Gleeson, as Sergeant Gerry Boyle (the title character) in The Guard, conveys an almost sweet buffoonery when he utters the line, "I'm Irish. Racism's part of me culture!"

The story here is overtly about an unlikely partnership between Boyle and a visiting investigative FBI agent, Wendall Everett (a perfectly cast Don Cheadle). It has the makings of a lot of ignorant comments by Boyle about black people, who he has little experience with, aside from the immigrant man running the home where his mother lives. But writer-director John Michael McDonagh takes potshots at a bevy of Irish prejudices, from Eatern Europeans to Brits to even Dubliners. In this film at least, these are people with a clear distrust for any and all outsiders.

Ironically, both Everett and Boyle are outsiders themselves, to a fairly equal degree, if in wildly different ways. When Boyle hears of some obscure Wisconsin town Everett grew up in, he asks, "Did you grow up in the projects?" Everett, constantly taking offense even as he makes equally ignorant assumptions about the Irish -- that they all speak English as a native language, for example -- assures him that "I came from a very privileged background." This is what makes the part perfect for Cheadle, who has never felt quite right in even vaguely stereotypically "black" roles. His demeanor and speech mannerisms have always conveyed a sense of privilege.

As for Boyle, we are never given the sense that he's a "normal" cop (or "Guard," as they are evidently called in Ireland). This is a guy, after all, who frisks the body of a dead drunk driver and then takes a hit on his acid. Just so there are no surprises about his character, we get to see this in the very opening scene, an attention-getter if there ever was one.

In the vaguest sense possible, Gleeson and Cheadle are like an Irish/American, black/white Laurel and Hardy for the Modern International Age. The two actors have a surprising chemistry together, which you would never quite expect. Everett is smart but befuddled out of his element; Boyle has an outwardly ignorant persona that belies his intelligence. The two meet, in the end quite comfortably, in the middle, and working together they can transcend a wholly clichéd line like "I can't tell if you're really motherfucking dumb, or really motherfucking smart." (Throwing in the word "motherfucking" doesn't really make it any less clichéd, either.) It's the look on Boyle's face that provides the payoff.

What the two are investigating -- drug smuggling -- is really secondary, just a plot device to get these two characters "randomly" stuck together. And that's fine. Aside from a somewhat frustrating amount of impenetrable Irish accents among the supporting players, making it difficult for an American ear to understand what's being said, The Guard is just a new spin on the buddy cop movie -- and it works. At it's core it's not as fresh as it seems, but in entertainment, seeming fresh is just about as good as the real thing.

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson have a bit of culture clash in 'The Guard'.

Overall: B+
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