The Guard is a shaggy-man character study, its subject a 50-something policeman in West Ireland, Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson). No by-the-book cop, Boyle spends his days off romping with hookers and has no qualms about gulping MDMA from the pockets of a freshly dead teenager — he also displays a proletarian literary bent, visits his ailing mum to cheer her with pained jocularity, and, unlike his better-turned-out colleagues, holds himself to an unorthodox-but-unbendable code of honor. As an FBI agent visiting to intercept a massive drug drop, Don Cheadle is on hand to act as straight man and instruct the audience to grudgingly appreciate Boyle for what he is, despite his racial ribbing of the Don Rickles all-in-good-fun school ("I'm Irish, sir; racism is a part of me culture," Boyle announces). One senses that The Guard is McDonagh's eulogy for the brusque, warts-and-all character of a passing generation of tough, working-class Irishmen, much as Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino was for vintage Americanism. But McDonagh's film eschews any pretense of social reality for cinematographic fancifulness and too-clever-by-half dialogue, much of it from a trio of drug smugglers livening up Boyle's jurisdiction with homicides. As Cheadle drifts around a vaguely thought-through role, The Guard bets everything on Gleeson's boyish twinkle — and tends to overestimate its own raffish charm. (Rated R)
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