Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard follows Brendan Gleeson’s Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox Irish cop, as he teams up with a straightlaced FBI agent (Don Cheadle’s Wendell Everett) to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring. It’s clear immediately that McDonagh isn’t looking to cultivate an atmosphere of gritty realism here, as the first-time filmmaker has infused The Guard with a decidedly off-the-wall feel that’s reflected in its broad comedic sensibilities and less-than-subtle performances. And although Gleeson and Cheadle are great together and share a great deal of natural chemistry, The Guard is, in its early stages, overwhelmed by McDonagh’s persistent (and increasingly desperate) efforts at eliciting laughs from the viewer – with the ongoing emphasis on eye-rollingly absurd bits of comedy diminishing the strength of the movie’s positive elements. (There is, for example, an unreasonably silly exchange in which a character wonders if and how a person being liquidated would actually be turned into liquid.) The film’s turning point comes just past the one-hour mark with an unexpectedly riveting sequence that immediately grabs the viewer’s waning interest, and there’s little doubt that this scene, involving a tense one-on-one conversation between Gerry and a would-be assassin, paves the way for an almost incongruously exciting climactic gunfight – which ultimately cements The Guard‘s place as a woefully uneven yet sporadically engaging debut feature from McDonagh.
**1/2 out of ****