It was kismet that just after watching 1982’s 48 Hours, I’d stumble onto a modern Irish buddy cop picture. Brendan Gleeson (Boyle) is an Irish policeman in Connemara, content to do his duty while occasionally lifting recreational drugs off of car accident victims or engaging call girls dressed as policewomen for their pleasures. The FBI, in the form of Don Cheadle (Everett) arrives and they require Gleeson’s assistance in stopping a drug shipment and the brutal gang (led by Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham) facilitating it.
Much more comedic and wry than 48 Hours, The Guard does set up Gleeson as the racist. When briefed by Cheadle and shown pictures of the white gang, Gleeson goes wide-eyed and says, “I thought only black lads were drug dealers?” When Cheadle upbraids him for being a bigot, Gleeson responds, “I’m Irish, sure. Racism’s part of my culture.” But the stronger dynamics are the Cheadle as fish-out-of-water line and a little of Gleeson’s Oscar to Cheadle’s by-the-book Felix. Gleeson has no real enmity behind his racism and uses it merely to probe Cheadle. Their interplay gets funnier as they get to know each other.
Best is the depiction of Ireland, which is not so much whimsical as hilariously casual. Gleeson finds some guns meant for the IRA and when delivering them to their contact (the idea of confiscation is never considered), seems bemused that the organization still exists. The presumption is that almost all the police are on the take, and Gleeson’s explanation as to why he cannot assist Cheadle in the canvassing of potential witnesses to a murder is pitch perfect:
BOYLE: So what d’ya have planned for the day?
EVERETT: Well obviously we don’t know who killed McCormick or why. There was no useful forensic evidence found at the crime scene, so I thought we might start by canvassing the area around where the body was discovered. See if anybody heard anything, something they might have thought was relatively insignificant, but which in light of the murder may have a far greater importance. I mean, when I caught that sonofabitch Tyrell Lee Dobbs it was a result of something as seemingly inconsequential as a laundry mark, if you can believe that. The guy had a personal hygiene issue that was almost pathological. The other thing to consider is that McCormick was probably in the process of reconnoitering drop-off points all along the coast. Our friends Sheehy, Cornell and O’Leary are no doubt in other parts of the country doing exactly the same thing. So I’ll liaise with Inspector Stanton and Detective Moody, have them and their men start a coordinated push in all the relevant locations…
He trails off, realizing that BOYLE is concentrating on his food and is not listening to him.
BOYLE: I’m sorry, you lost me at “we”.
EVERETT: We. You and I.
BOYLE: It’s my day off. Did I not say?
EVERETT: It’s your day off.
BOYLE: I’ve had it booked a good while. Ask Stanton.
EVERETT: We’re investigating a murder and the trafficking of half a million dollars in cocaine–
BOYLE: Half a billion dollars.
EVERETT: –half a billion dollars in cocaine, and you’re telling me it’s your day off?
BOYLE: Twenty-four hours won’t make any difference.
EVERETT: Twenty-four hours won’t make any difference
BOYLE: They’re always saying it does, on those cop shows on the telly, but it doesn’t. Not in my experience, anyways. And why are you always repeating everything I say?
There is also a side story showing Gleeson taking care of his mother (Fionnula Flanagan) in the latter stages of her cancer that is sweet but not distracting.
Finally, the trio of bad guys have a running discussion of philosophy and culture that is Joycean yet Tarantinoesque. It’s rare you’re introduced to crooks in the midst of the following discusssion:
O’LEARY: I’d say Nietzsche.
SHEEHY: Nietzsche. You haven’t even fucking read any Nietzsche.
O’LEARY: I have, too. Ah…The Antichrist.
SHEEHY: Quote me something, then.
O’LEARY: “What does not kill me–”
SHEEHY: Ah, for fuck’s sake. Every child knows that one.
CORNELL: Bertrand Russell.
SHEEHY: Bertrand Russell. Will you listen to him. The fucking English. Everything has to be fucking English. Name your favourite philosopher, and lo and behold, he’s fucking English.
CORNELL: He’s Welsh.
CORNELL: Bertrand Russell was Welsh.
SHEEHY: Bertrand Russell was Welsh?
He considers whether or not to take issue with CORNELL’s statement, but then accepts it might be true.
SHEEHY: You know I never knew that. I didn’t think anybody interesting was Welsh.
CORNELL: Dylan Thomas?
SHEEHY: Like I said, I didn’t think anybody interesting was Welsh.
O’LEARY: “You will not get the crowd to cry Hosanna until you ride into town on an ass.” Nietzsche.
SHEEHY and CORNELL look blankly at O’LEARY. Then —
SHEEHY: Yeah that’s a good one.
CORNELL: Good quote, yeah, nice one.
You might think it showy and contrived, but it’s not.