The Guard (2011)

Posted on September 18, 2013



Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is the senior police officer in a village in Western Ireland (shot on location in Connemara). Right after two dead bodies turn up in the area, he has to go to the big city to get briefed on a major drug smuggling operation by FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). There we get to see more evidence of Gerry’s confrontational attitude.

Gerry’s approach to looking for the drug smugglers is to ignore the problem until more things happen. Agent Everett tries to investigate, but no one in the area will speak with him.

Eventually the drug smugglers, including Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (Liam Cunningham), Liam O’Leary (David Wilmot), and Clive Cornell (Mark Strong) show up. They’re philosophers who enjoy their work. Their thorough bribing of the Garda Síochána na hÉireann, the Irish police, leads the FBI to divert their resources.

That leaves Gerry Boyle with a choice: Take the bribe, or take the bad guys.

Short Version

This is a subtle film made by a screenwriter turned director (John Michael McDonagh, who both wrote and directed). The comedy is mild and the action is restrained, so the characters have a chance to shine.

Longer Version

I had never heard of this movie, but Netflix kept recommending it to me. I’m glad I took the opportunity to see it.

Brendan Gleeson is a rarity these days. He had a life, and didn’t become a professional actor until he was 34. He’s been in Far and Away, Into the West, Braveheart, Michael Collins, The General, Lake Placid, Mission: Impossible II, and I could go on and on). He is fantastic in this part.

Gerry Boyle is a man living in the same area where he grew up. He’s barely needed there. Until the events of this movie, almost nothing happens in the village. Sergeant Boyle’s role is mostly unofficial, letting people know they should behave decently because he is there if they don’t.

He clearly feels constrained by life. He is confrontational not because he is a bad man, but because he wants to be accepted and respected for who he is. He doesn’t want to be who people expect. That confrontation keeps him from moving up in the Garda. His mother, Eileen (the great Fionnula Flanagan), is dying in a hospice and he loves her. He goes to see her at least once a week, so he’s not likely to move away any time soon.

Rather than stating any of this, The Guard lets us learn it slowly by watching Gerry Boyle live his life. He’s a big man straining against the bonds of a small place. Like Agent Everett, we’re left wondering whether Gerry Boyle is really, really smart, or really, really dumb.

Meanwhile, the movie keeps taking us into the lives of the drug dealers. I mentioned in my column on Olympus Has Fallen that we cannot always get equal treatment of protagonists and and antagonists. In The Guard, we almost do. Granted, no one ever explains why or how they became drug smugglers. However, we do get more than cardboard cut-outs. Each is an individual, with a past, preferences, and unique strengths.

 Of course, Don Cheadle is awesome. I watched him in Hamburger Hill, Colors, Out of Sight, Mission to Mars, Traffic, Rush Hour 2, and of course the Ocean’s Eleven movies. He is a powerhouse, professional, performer. He has to be. Brendan Gleeson is a big man playing a big, confrontational, character. You have to be great to share scenes with that.

What’s more, Don Cheadle makes Agent Everett relatable. We feel his pain when the people of Connemara refuse to acknowledge him or will only speak Gaelic around him. He just wants to do his job and catch the bad guys. He can’t understand why this big Irish police sergeant is such a jerk.

So we have characters, context, and the simple conflict that comes from cops vs robbers. Finally, things come to a head. A weapons cache, an insulting encounter with Sheehy-Skeffington, and Eileen’s death mean that Gerry is suddenly free to make a real choice. That choice leads to the final confrontation.


Not everyone likes character-driven movies with heavy accents. I do, though. I hope you’ll give The Guard a shot, and not just of Jamesons.

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Posted in: Movies