The buddy cop comedy is one that has been done so often that you almost want to give it a Viking funeral. With so many bad variants on it, including Cop Out and The Other Guys recently, the genre needs another 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon to at least have some dignity. While it may never got another film like either of those, The Guard is the summer’s funniest film without a doubt because of a tremendous pairing of mismatched cops.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a small town Irish cop in Connemara Gaeltacht who takes certain delights with his job. Unorthodox to an intriguing degree, his new partner (Rory Keenan) is a straight-laced cop out of Dublin. When a murder in their town connects to a massive drug-trafficking operation, and his partner missing, the Irish cop joins forces with straight-laced American FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) coordinating the joint Irish-American effort to bring down the narco-smugglers. And the film wouldn’t work without Cheadle and Gleeson working together wonderfully.
It’s the crux to any buddy cop film: if the two leads don’t have any chemistry no matter how good everything else is the film won’t work. The Guard works because Cheadle and Gleeson work so well together that it elevates the film wonderfully. From the film’s first awkward between the two the film is equal parts engaging and comedic because of the two. Cheadle gets to play to his strengths as a straight-laced cop trying to do his job and halt drug smuggling. Everett is a taskmaster and by the books, clashing with Boyle’s antics in humorous ways. By the time the film ends, barely over 90 minutes, you’re left wanting more of the two.
A lot of it comes from the two having great characters to play. Both characters aren’t archetypes of the genre, usually with one actor going completely over the top and the other playing the straight man, which makes it that much more interesting. It plays into the genre’s conventions in terms of story but we’re given much more plausible characters to work with. The film becomes more engaging because of it; it never loses its ability to be serious because you have one actor having to go so over the top the film can’t recover. That’s one of the things that’s been over-accentuated because of Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson; every character playing the “wacky” cop ever since has had to push the line more after their work as the “wacky” cop. By not going over the top with either character the film immediately improves because now the film’s strong comedic moments come through much cleaner.
It seems an unlikely combination but it doesn’t hurt that the film has a great script. John Michael McDonagh is in his first feature and is lucky enough to get two great actors in his leads, but he gives them great material to work with. This is a film that understands its tone and pace, quirky and fast respectively, early on and never lets up. There’s nothing wasted in the film as it’s remarkably efficient in not wasting time or scenes with ancillary subplots.
The Guard is currently in art-houses now but is certainly worth trying to find. In a year of R-rated strong comedies, it’s the best so far.
Writer / Director: John Michael McDonagh Notable Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.