If I could figure out how to mass tweet the world's population I would tweet: go see The Guard.
It's been a while since I have enjoyed a movie so. I could reach for a comparison that would be too too and write "I haven't enjoyed a movie as much since the last time I saw Gumshoe," but then I'd get into a raucous argument in some dark bar over who's a better actor: Brendan Gleeson or Albert Finney. A discussion which would soon evolve into tawdry tales of trips to Ireland, or, of how many times one has seen The Quiet Man. Depending on how literary the crowd, and in honor of the Galway setting of The Guard, I'd try to steer my bon copains to Ken Bruen and Irish detective fiction.
I'd tell my story of meeting Albert Finney, both of us a bit worse for drink, one summer's afternoon in Covent Garden. He nodded a friendly hello as I walked by. I stopped, took off my Ray-Bans and dead-panned from Gumshoe:
"Haven't had these off since Buddy Holly died."
He laughed the laugh from the dinner scene in Tom Jones, took a long pull from his pint, and replied:
"Well, that's two of us that saw it anyway!"
Holding forth in bars over a pint or two with strangers and friends discussing movies, books, and Albert Finney are what make life a wonderment.
In The Guard, Brendan Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a crusty, intellectually subversive member of Galway's finest. He's a Garda, an Irish cop, and, is as comfortable in the skin of Sergeant Boyle as any movie character I've encountered in a long time. His Boyle reminds us that really great actors seem not to act at all... they just are.
The movie opens with a bit of police work that won't be found in manuals, kicking off a tale that unfolds with humor, humanity, and vivid characterizations. A wonderful screenplay with so many gruff asides in almost impenetrable Irish accents that you have to pay attention. Dialogue so vivid, so expressive, as to make even a modern-day movie audience forget texting and chewing popcorn open-mouthed for a while.
Bad guys are bringing in a half billion in drugs and the FBI sends an agent to the West of Ireland as liaison with the locals to help track the shipment and apprehend the miscreants. The G-man (government not Galway) is the wonderful Don Cheadle, an actor I have liked in every role he's ever been in. He and the curmudgeonly Gerry Boyle create a new take on the traditional cop buddy movie. There's nary a hint of the treacle that ruined In the Heat of the Night between them. In this movie the sophisticated big city black cop and slow, rural white cop interact naturally, as humans not symbols. Their back and forth is fresh, funny, and contains more than a bit of blarney.
The FBI/Garda dynamic also allows the screenplay to skewer America with barbs worthy of In the Loop. There aren't really belly laughs in The Guard, but chuckles and grins as you admire the word play and Irish sensibility of almost every scene. Gleeson never overplays his character, never turns Gerry Boyle into a cartoon Irishman from the Barry Fitzgerald school of overacting. A few scenes in, you believe that Sergeant Boyle exists and know that out there, whether in Connemara, Boston, New York or Chicago, there are big, subversive, Irish cops just like him. Cops whose faces are, like Brendan Gleeson's, road maps of toughness, wit, porter, and, somewhere, a gentleness.
Sergeant Boyle and his ilk, are the kinds of cops honest citizens admire and knuckleheads fear.
The supporting cast is excellent: Mark Strong leads a trio of bad guys who quote philosophers, murder as casually as they floss their teeth, and while evil, are evil with style.
Don Cheadle's FBI agent plays more as a foil for Sergeant Boyle's wit and wisdom than as a costar. But, Cheadle's innate dignity as an actor and wry expression in the face of the pure Irishness around him, make his character immensely likable.
The writer/director, John Michael McDonagh, is the brother of Martin McDonagh, the writer/director of In Bruges. Discovering this connection on IMDb made me flip a mental coin to decide which movie was better written, had more comic asides, or balanced thriller and humanity so well.
After twenty mental flips and flops, The Guard came out just ahead.
The deck was stacked anyway. The Guard is set in the home country, has several scenes with the most fun ladies of easy virtue since the girls Alex met at the Milkbar in Clockwork Orange, and is funnier.
In Bruges: no such ladies, and, well, Belgium?
When it ended, the audience just sat there, silent for a moment, content. No dashes for the exits for this crowd, everyone waiting until the end of the credits. Engaged and happy until the the very last actor's name and character in the movie was shown. Only then, after the screen turned black, was there an immediate excited buzz as people exchanged remembered dialogue and declared that everyone they knew had to see The Guard forthwith.
It's great fun, interesting, sardonic, with Ireland's terrible beauty on full display. I sat in the dark and hoped that I'd run into Brendan Gleeson in a Covent Garden pub one day as I did with Albert Finney. I'll buy him a pint and talk about Gumshoe, Ken Bruen's Garda hero, and wait to hear if he says anything about Buddy Holly when I ask him to take off his sunglasses.