John Michael McDonagh, brother of lauded playwright and In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, takes a whole-hog approach to exploiting the provincial reputation of the Irish in his directorial debut, following the amoral exploits of Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), an acid-dropping, hooker-hiring, socially stunted police officer who could very well be the last clean cop on the Emerald Isle.
After discovering a dead body in Gaelic-speaking Connemara, Boyle soon learns that the murder brushes up against a large-scale drug-smuggling operation, its Irish outpost run by philosophically adept criminals Francis Sheehy (Liam Cunningham) and Clive Cornell (the inescapable Mark Strong). When reserved African-American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) ships over to Ireland to investigate, McDonagh reacts with all the subtlety of a famished Rottweiler tossed a raw porterhouse, capitalizing on each and every cringe-inducing ethnic donnybrook. ("I'm Irish, sir," Boyle informs Everett when he's rebuked for an off-color skin-color remark. "Racism is part of my culture.")
That’s all easy money, but what makes The Guard such a watchable black comedy, aside from its grinningly McQueen-like pace, is Gleeson's serrated performance, at once childlike, cold and chummy. "I can't tell if you're really motherfucking dumb or really motherfucking smart," Everett admits to Boyle after the Irishman digs up a major lead in their case. Neither can we, and that’s why we want him on our side.