'The Guard' Blu-ray Review: Gleeson Gets His Close Up

Brendan Gleeson has been so good for so long in supporting roles that it was only a matter of time before someone wisely cast him as the lead.

“The Guard” gives Gleeson a film to call his own, and he corrals it with a grace that belies his bulky frame.

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Writer/director John Michael McDonagh, whose brother gave us the equally nimble “In Bruges,” knows what makes Gleeson special. The actor’s instincts are pure, making even overly ornate dialogue feel like it just struck him in a bolt of inspiration.

Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is the kind of Irish cop who won’t take a bribe but doesn’t know when to shut his yap. So when he stumbles upon a massive drug operation he does what he always does – insult everyone around him while picking up enough clues to help break the case.

The scope of the smuggling plot brings the FBI to Gerry’s Irish town in the form of Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), a by-the-book type aghast at Gerry’s sozzled tongue.

It’s yet another mismatched cop movie, but Gleeson and Cheadle refuse to make their relationship routine. Everett won’t tolerate Gerry’s casually racist banter, but he won’t view the older man strictly through any politically correct lens. And Gerry knows he’s got a pit bull of a partner in Everett, but he’s too stuck in his ways to stop insulting him at every turn.

McDonagh’s script might have toppled over from excess wit in less assured hands. Nearly every syllable out of Gerry’s mouth could enliven a college T-shirt, and the banter amongst the drug traffickers is equally deft.

Gleeson, given a role worth his talents, makes Gerry a shambling contradiction. He’s casually blunt without a dark thought in his head – “I’m Irish. Racism is part of my culture,” he informs Everett with an innocent shrug after an off-color remark. And Gerry tosses off vaguely anti-American comments, name dropping the Waco fiasco and President Barack Obama, as if he simply can’t control his thoughts. Yet he’s also unfailingly polite at times. He welcomes a pair of prostitutes into his home like a southern gentleman draping his coat over a puddle for a lady to walk across. Gleeson pulls the disparate elements together, even when they’re so obviously constructed for our amusement.

The drug narrative isn’t very deep, and the philosophical musings of the trio of drug dealers occasionally plays out like a screenwriter showing off his wit. The smaller elements still zing, from the aforementioned working girls to a rookie cop mature enough to die on his own terms.

The shoot ’em up finale doesn’t bother with hackneyed flourishes. It’s bold faced and simple, men firing at other men until someone keels over. It’s just like Gerry – in your face and unapologetic.

The copious Blu-ray extras include a commentary track with McDonagh and his two male leads, deleted scenes, outtakes, a standard “Making Of” featurette and “The Second Death,” a short film by McDonagh featuring some of the characters fleshed out in “The Guard.” An LA Film Festival chat with the director and his stars is far too deferential to the talent to be engrossing. But after watching “The Guard” it’s not easy holding back one’s affections for this trio.