Researching a film on the Internet Movie Database can be a dangerous endeavor for a reviewer on deadline. So vast and comprehensive is the database that a simple search for one bit of information—an actor's name, a filming location, the budget—can easily turn into 25 minutes of mindlessly clicking on links for films and people with zero relevance to the task at hand. Much like Wikipedia, the IMDB vortex is insanely powerful. One minute you're looking up how to spell a character's name, the next you're reading Clint Eastwood's biography.
But I opened up IMDB after seeing The Guard with one very specific goal in mind: translation. That may sound silly considering it's an Irish film where the few scenes with Gaelic speakers come with subtitles, but I didn't understand more of the English dialogue that I am comfortable admitting. And that's a lousy feeling, especially with a fun, dark comedy like The Guard. For every scene in which Brendan Gleeson, playing the role of seemingly reluctant detective Sergeant Gerry Boyle, cracks a one-liner, there's another that is lost amid fast-talking thick accents and the Wilma's occasionally rough sound system.
After IMDB's "Quotations" section for The Guard proved useless, I turned to a page that I rarely, if ever, go to: the user message board. And here I received much needed help in filling in the language gaps, as well as insight from viewers (many of them Irish) about inside jokes involving the IRA, British intelligence agencies, and other quirks of culture that made zero sense to this Yankee. It's an odd feeling to laugh at a scene 15 hours after you've actually watched it.
The last time you probably saw Gleeson was in the thematically similar crime caper In Bruges, which was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The Guard was written and directed by McDonagh's brother John Michael, and the siblings obviously have a flair for irreverent dark comedy that makes both films equally memorable. Here, Gleeson plays the Irish version of Peter Falk's Lieutenant Columbo, a bumbling, carefree detective (or in Gleeson's case, head of a small police station in a suburb of Galway) who may or may not be slightly crazy. Everything about Sergeant Boyle screams apathy—from his insistence on taking a day off in the middle of a murder investigation to the connect-the-dot puzzles he works on at his desk. But he also may be the only law enforcement officer in all of western Ireland not on the take from a band of drug runners.
When FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives from America to assist in the drug smuggling investigation, his initial interactions with Boyle are among the film's best. Cheadle is brilliant as the straight man—a preppy, Rhodes Scholar-turned FBI guy who must work in tandem with a man who believes "only blacks are drug dealers ... and Mexicans." The bad guys here are of course white Irishman attempting to smuggle $500 million worth of cocaine into the country via boat. The best (or worst) of the bunch is hit man Colum Hennessey (Pat Shortt). When described by his cohorts as a psychopath, he calmly explains that "I'm a sociopath, not a psychopath; they explained that to me [in the hospital]." Asked what the difference is, the goon replies he doesn't know. "It's a tough one."
It's the perfect dialogue for a film that takes just about every police move cliché and plays it over the top with perfect pitch—not unlike the Lethal Weapon films that did the same until managing to become a sad parody of themselves. The chemistry between Everett and Boyle grows stronger in each scene, with Boyle relishing any chance to poke, prod and antagonize the FBI guy. A befuddled and exasperated Everett finally tells the Irish cop that he can't figure out "whether you're really fucking stupid or really fucking smart." Boyle doesn't say a word.
The fun is that we can never really figure it out either. And though The Guard slows too much in the middle scenes as Everett tries to pinpoint the drop-off location for the drugs, the final third of the film—when the two law officers figure out that the only one they can trust is the other—materializes in delightful and unexpected ways. It's a film that will require a second viewing on DVD to really appreciate the dialogue lost in Irish accents, but The Guard is worthy of an encore in my living room. I'm sure all the lines I missed are funny. I'd just like some confirmation.
The Guard continues at the Wilma.