The Guard

(2011) *** R
96 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: John Michael McDonagh. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, Dominique McElligott.

/content/films/4270/1.jpgLike its lead character, The Guard projects the attitude that it can't be bothered with what you think of it, and that seeming indifference makes it all the more attractive a prospect. That and the sterling comic work of Brendan Gleeson as Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a right bastard whose disregard for the rules of police work and general civility—paired with his knowingness, competence and tart humor—qualify him as a lovably cheeky anti-hero.

Boyle would've been enough for an enjoyable Irish cop comedy, but writer-director John Michael McDonagh has in mind the Galway version of Lethal Weapon. The water to Boyle's oil is FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), whose initial deadpan shock at Boyle's brusqueness gradually turns to respect. Everett arrives to spearhead a sting targeting international drug-smugglers, but McDonagh's in no hurry to arrive at that preordained climax. Taking the story at Boyle's pace, McDonagh meanders through a head-scratching local murder and the subsequent disconcerting disappearance of Boyle's callow partner (Rory Keenan)—as well as sundry distractions for the Garda, including his ailing mother (Fionnula Flanagan) and an unhelpful, wee punk (Mícheál Óg Lane)—before putting the Irish and American cops side by side, packing heat and facing probably insurmountable odds.

McDonagh's screenplay is clever enough, in the dry-wit department and in its connect-these-dots crime scenery, and McDonagh the director makes good use of the Connemara scenery. Whenever the proceedings begin to seem slight, though, it's the actors who save The Guard, including the brilliant trio of Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and David Wilmot as the low-wattage baddies who come off more as working stiffs than cookie-cutter villains. The film's self-conscious gestures in the direction of fish-out-of-water comedies, buddy-cop movies and Westerns don't amount to much in and of themselves, but they tie together as a functional clothesline for character comedy and left-field drama. The latter gives pleasing weight to Boyle, whose apparent lack of focus may well be a coping mechanism for the shite he has to shovel as a man and as a cop, whether bureaucratic or distressingly intimate: troubleshooting not only his ma, but the premature grief of his partner's girlfriend (well played by Katarina ?as). All told, it's a promising debut for McDonagh.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/3/2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony sends home The Guard in a well-appointed Blu-ray special edition. The image quality may be mediocre by the standard of the typical new release (and the high bar set by Sony) but that's not to say the film doesn't look good and better than it does in its standard-def equivalent. Color is fairly punchy, and the image stays film-like with light grain ever present, but the picture also suffers from softness (particularly in dimly lit interiors that compare badly to the relatively sharp daylight exteriors) and a few, not terribly distracting instances of noise. The picture wears its lack of sharpness well, though, and this transfer generally gives the same impression as the film did on the big screen. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix gets the job done nicely with crucially clear dialogue, solid music dynamics, and crisp, well-placed atmospheric effects.

Bonus features impress, beginning with a rollicking audio commentary by director John Michael McDonagh and actors Don Cheadle & Brendan Gleeson.

The standard-issue "Making of The Guard" (19:21, HD) features set footage and cast and crew interviews.

The key extra is McDonagh's short film "The Second Death" (11:32, SD), which was a first step of sorts toward making The Guard.

Also on the disc are brief "Outtakes" (3:05, SD), a "Q&A with Actors Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson and Director John Michael McDonagh" (18:09, SD), three "Deleted Scenes" (6:07, SD)—"Boyle has Champagne with Prostitutes," "Everett Tries to Clear the Air Between Boyle and Stanton," and "Boyle with Gabriela"—twelve "Extended & Alternate Scenes" (18:37, SD)—"Boyle and McBride Discovering the Body," "Boyle and McBride in the Office," "Interrogation of Billy Devaney," "Boyle with Oleyuwo 'Bourbon,'" "Boyle with Gabriela," "Boyle and Everett Have Breakfast," "Boyle Walking with Prostitutes," "Boyle and Everett in the Bar," "Boyle with Eugene on the Bog," "Boyle vs. Sheehy at Eddie Rocket's," "Boyle with His Mother in Bar" and "Boyle vs. O'Leary in Boyle's Home"—and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:18, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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