Brendan Gleeson is not your average detective. Which, of course, we know already.
The talented Irish character actor, who so easily swings through demeanors gruff, biting, winking and worn-leather soft, is perhaps most (recently) famous for his role as magical detective Mad-Eye Moody in the "Harry Potter" films. Intense, incisive and loyal in that blockbuster series, Gleeson ratchets down the laser focus -- but not the brilliance -- in his new Irish indie film, "The Guard".
Playing Sergent Gerry Boyle, a jaded small-town police chief (and entire force), Gleeson blends a mix wit, cynicism, absolute joy, beautiful tenderness and secret loneliness into a character that is best described by Don Cheedle, playing a befuddled new police partner early in the film, as either the dumbest -- or smartest -- guy he knows.
It soon becomes clear, though, that it is very much the latter; as Gleeson told The Huffington Post, his Boyle is a deliciously complicated guy, using a veneer of apathy and ignorance -- especially when it comes to race sensitivity -- to his advantage. When a major murder in his small town gets tied to an international drug dealing ring, his inaction becomes crucial.
"I have to say, it's kind of a no brainer really, I think he knows more than anybody there, for the most part from the very beginning," Gleeson said. "He does this thing where he kind of pretends to be dumb and, kind of both to allow people to underestimate him and also so he can get to say these outrageous things, to kind of make something happen."
Happen something does -- and once he realizes the magnitude, he begins a very inconspicuous plan of attack.
"He has become profoundly disillusioned, quite obviously, but he’s a very bright guy, he reads Russian novelists, even though he doesn’t think much of them, he’s a movie buff and all the rest," Gleeson gleams, obviously proud of the character -- in no small part because he created such a rich history for him, even if the script didn't call for it.
"My theory is that he grew up in a house with no dad, and that he had a notion, when he was younger, that y’know, that vainness was something akin to what he might have seen in a western, y’know, he kinda joined the cops in the expectation that his mettle would be tested and all he found was certain fudging and the compromise and a bit of looking the other way, and the usual kind of things that disappoint people at that age and he grew quite disillusioned and cynical," he explains. "So, I think he’s also very bored of that, that anybody can be part of posturing or anybody coming into his world he wants to scuttle. But I think he’s always been waiting for a challenge, y’know, I think he genuinely kind of wants a “high noon” situation in his life."
Still, while it is, on the surface, a detective film about solving a major series of crimes, "The Guard" is really a character study, unraveling Boyle's various layers as his life begins to fall apart and madness grows around him. Not that it isn't funny.
Boyle, it would seem from his abundant racist comments and cold treatment of co-workers, is not one for soft moments of sentimentality, but a few key moments, and a number of threads that unravel from them, reveal a deeper, yearning side of Gerry.
"I think he has quite a strong moral code, y'know, he's also very soft with the women, and this is my own
backstory, I kind of figured in a way, he was very protective as far as women," Gleeson explained. As for his hard edge, much of that he says, comes from "trying to mask that he's quite lonely."
Boyle is unmarried and with only his sickly mother for family; his tender caring for her, as well as the way he treats the widow of a murdered police partner, gives evidence of his empathy. Luckily, Boyle is far too ebullient and fun-loving to sulk in his small town misery; one of the best moments in the film comes when he's describing his recent trip to Disney World.
Even funnier, perhaps, was Don Cheedle's reaction, and the conversation that followed.
Still, even that trip had a tinge of sadness to it; Boyle so desperately wants a family that he finds himself taking traditionally reserved for a man with children. But could it happen?
"I wouldn't hold out too much hope, because he was quite self destructive, don't you think?" Gleeson asks rhetorically -- he knows the character best. "I think it was a possibility, I think we're all kind of delusional like that, we think that we can all carry on being who we are without bending ourselves to make ourselves acceptable and expect someone to come along and see to us and rescue to us. I don't think he's holding his breath, y'know, but I think that possibly is a dream."
Where we first see apathy and ignorance, Boyle's dedication to the case -- carried out in his own unique way -- even as the morals of those around him crumble, prove that first impressions aren't everything. But luckily for the audience, they're still mighty funny.
"The Guard" hits theaters on July 29th.
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