The buddy cop genre has been re-interpreted numerous different ways, but there is a commonly recognizable theme. One cop, oftentimes a more dyed in the wool, seasoned veteran, is entrusted with reining in the maverick impetuousness of a younger new recruit with a ‘top scores in the academy but he’s a liability’ backstory (for example, think of the Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, and – albeit in a different way – 48 Hours series). Instead of inserting the kid who doesn’t play by the rules into the calcified routines of the cop nearing retirement, this week’s movie recommendation, John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard turns the dynamic on its head for hilarious effect.
Don Cheadle plays Wendell Everett, the FBI hotshot who is as by-the-book as they come. He imposes upon Gerry Boyle, the foul-mouthed, booze-swilling, prostitute patronizing, veteran played by Brendan Gleeson, to assist in foiling a conspiracy in Boyle’s rural Irish town. Everett is displaced to a country in which his traditional training has left him ill-equipped to conduct investigations of his own. Boyle is not especially concerned with providing the necessary guidance, either: he is content leaving Everett to grapple ineffectually with the local Gaelic language problems and casual racism, while he exchanges information for weapons with his IRA confidant.
As the duo works together to solve the plot, they eventually establish a rapport that enables Everett to dispense with the haplessness of his investigation. For his part, while we’re introduced to Boyle in the opening scene as a man who’ll drop acid just to escape from the dreariness of it all, the character development culminates with a man who learns to take pride in his uniform and do the right thing when needed.
Mark Strong sends up his earlier work as one of Guy Ritchie’s favorite London mobsters. He turns in yet another wonderful performance, this time as the henchman with a crippling case of existential angst and more than a passing interest in Bertrand Russell. The excellent supporting cast also includes Fionnula Flanagan, who plays Boyle’s dying mother Eileen. Boyle’s scenes with his mother are heartfelt and bittersweet. Her wistful regret that she hasn’t lived excitingly enough to have taken drugs, for example, makes Boyle’s rampant escapism all that much sadder.
The film is distinctively Irish, and it shows through not just in the charm of Gleeson’s wit. The script is razor-sharp, and goes to show how much can be done on a low budget with an ensemble of talented actors. McDonagh does a wonderful job both in his direction and in his selection of colors and set locations. County Galway is a beautiful place, and he could have easily let the landscape dominate the screen; instead, McDonagh uses the washed-out colors of the cliffs and the rural expanses to show how unexpected and out of the ordinary Boyle’s and Everett’s investigation is.
It’s a wonderful film, and it is guaranteed to make you laugh. Enjoy, RBC.
I think it’s time to dust off the RBC movie trivia game. Name buddy cop films in which there is some awareness of the buddy cop trope – typically, this will take the form of a self-referential joke (for example, in Last Action Hero, the cops at the station were all partnered with someone who clearly didn’t match), but I’m intentionally leaving this open-ended.