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Brendan Gleeson
Mark Strong
Don Cheadle
Liam Cunningham
David Wilmot.
John Michael McDonagh.
John Michael McDonagh.
Running Time
96 minutes

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The Guard
A craicing buddy cop movie

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Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), an unconventional policeman in the west of Ireland, investigates a seemingly random murder. FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) arrives in Galway to mount a large-scale operation against a well-organised drug-smuggling ring. At first irritated by Gerry's manner, Everett is surprised by the garda's canniness as he connects the murder to the drug case.

The Guard
Kept busy as a support in big, international films, playing a Harry Potter eccentric or a Troy toga patriarch, Brendan Gleeson is a star character actor in Ireland. In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, showed a film could profitably be built around his baggy, clear-eyed disappointment, especially if he gets reams of barbed, whimsical, profane, brutally funny dialogue. The Guard, written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, Martin’s brother, is another blend of shaggy-dog story and genre picture, giving Gleeson a lawman role as strong as the gangster parts of In Bruges and The General. It’s a rare film you come out of hoping for a series with the same star/ character, though it’s also a perfect one-off and doesn’t quite end the way you expect.

Gleeson’s garda, Gerry Boyle, is a cross between Father Ted and the Bad Lieutenant. We meet him at the site of a stupid car crash, ticking off the corpses of joy-riders, but appropriating their drugs for his own consumption. He’s a dutiful if indulgent son to his terminally ill mother (Fionnula Flanagan) in a sub-plot most films would turn maudlin but which is a delight here. The kind of grown-up kid who’d visit Disneyland on his own, Gerry spends his day off with friendly Dublin ‘whooers’ dressed as fetish policewomen and makes polite, interesting conversation with the worst hard-men to put off the moment when he has to fight. He’s also a detective with Columbo-level insight born of acute observation of human nature, a fund of trivial knowledge and a stubborn streak of can’t-be-bothered-to-go-on-the-fiddle integrity in a region of the world where everybody else has decided to fill their pockets and shut their eyes.

The plot is standard, though the viewpoint is unusual. Conventionally, as a supporting character points out, this would be a Hollywood fish-out-of-water cop story with the FBI hotshot as hero. Here, straight-arrow Obama-era Fed Don Cheadle — who keeps having to tell disappointed people he’s not from the behavioural science unit and is just after drugs — manfully plays foil to Gleeson, who puts his hand up during a briefing to question the street value of a drugs haul (“I don’t know what street you buy your coca-ine on, but it certainly isn’t the street I buy my coca-ine on”) and genially responds to a reprimand with, “I’m Irish, racism is part of my culture.” Gerry isn’t really a racist, but one of nature’s contrarians, instinctively puncturing the posing of police and crooks alike, joshing a subordinate for talking like a cop show, chatting with the Volkswagen-driving chubby cowboy who represents the IRA (“Didn’t know you had gay lads in the IRA.” “To be sure, it was the only way to infiltrate the MI5”) and breaking off an exchange of menace with an arch-criminal (Liam Cunningham) to muse on the meaning of Bobby Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe.

Gleeson commands the film like someone who doesn’t care about all the awards he ought to win (“You don’t get a medal for coming fourth in the Olympics”), but McDonagh has the knack of not writing a single conventional character or scene. Everyone gets great material, and Mark Strong and David Wilmot spin secondary bad-guy roles into relishable turns (Strong is funny about police corruption, Wilmot a sad-eyed killer who knows it won’t turn out well).

Among the most purely entertaining films of the year, which cuts its laughter with a dose of Celtic melancholy. It still delivers cop/action requirements - shoot-outs, revenges, daring deeds - and chances are, we'll be quoting lines from this forever.

Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Guard
Empire Star Rating

RE: Hilarious From Start To Finish...

Loved the Guard from start to finish, hardly original but very well executed none the less. Gleeson as watchable as ever with strong support from Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong in particular. Don't really understand the need for all the soul searching on contemporary Ireland, the Guard has generated, it's a thriller, not a social commentary. If you want to address the state of the Nation and the Church in particular take a look at Calvary. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Uncle_Ethan at 20:16, 10 August 2014 | Report This Post

Recycled storyline of the classic binary opposition - maverick cop vs. professional who become friends, redeemed with great performances, quotable lines and beautiful simplicity. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 23:05, 17 March 2013 | Report This Post

Very funny, very cool

What a nice change of pace this movie delivers. Wonderfully written, and totally owned by all the characters, it's a funny and surprising film. I will be recommending this to all my friends, and then quoting the hell out of it too. "You went to yourself ?!?" ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danielthompson99 at 20:24, 05 June 2012 | Report This Post


This is no blockbuster. If you're looking for an action movie, or a laugh-out comedy, go elsewhere. Similarly if you're offended by bad language... but oh, I enjoyed this film for so many reasons. As mentioned elsewhere, Brendan Gleeson is superb. But so are the rest of the cast - there really isn't a weak link in the chain, and they are provided with a clever, witty script cracking with good dialogue. This is a black comedy which could only have been made on this side of the pond: make your way... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by garysimpson at 22:25, 27 May 2012 | Report This Post

Kim Newman is clueless

Between this and the 5 stars for "Melancholia" caN someone at Empire please relieve Kim Newman of her duties? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 17:12, 01 May 2012 | Report This Post

Brilliant Guard

Outstanding. Funny. Warm. Touching.. Best Dialogue of the Year. Why wasn't Gleeson Oscar nominated for this or In Bruges? Top Ten of the Year ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:38, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

Curiously Unconventional, Brilliantly Memorable

The Guard is a strange film. I think it's fair to say that. Mashing up all the melancholy elements from a thousand drama films and cramming them into a chalk-and-cheese pseudo-buddy cop film was never going to be an easy task, but it's been done. Admirably so, in fact. Gleeson's character is among the most memorable characters to grace the screen in my lifetime, and while it would've been nice to see a few more scenes featuring him and Cheadle, the film moves along at a comfortable speed, introd... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 21:14, 15 February 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Hilarious From Start To Finish...

This didn't do a lot for me. Aside for Empire's glowing review, I had it recommended to me by several people, so watched it expecting  a**** rating at least. I just found it all a bit tepid. Blendon Gleeson was ok, but Don Cheadle pretty much sleptwalked through it, and don't get me started on Mark Strong. His worst 'rentabaddie' part by far. Liked him in Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood, but this was like something out of drama school. Total waste of his talent. Rent Drive instead... More

Posted by film man aidy at 09:43, 29 January 2012 | Report This Post

Hilarious From Start To Finish...

Have to agree with Empire on this one. What starts as a fish out of water comedy becomes a whole lot more. Superb. Oh, and my advice to the anorak criticizing the lighting? Stick to Sight And Sound, son... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by wgfuzzydunlop1 at 02:59, 18 January 2012 | Report This Post

RE: cool movie

Surrounded by people laughing their heads off. Didn't laugh once. very disappointed with it. Felt it was trying too hard. ... More

Posted by moehat at 19:52, 20 October 2011 | Report This Post

RE: cool movie

Saw this on a plane and thought it was hilarious. ... More

Posted by Timon at 10:30, 04 October 2011 | Report This Post

cool movie

dry black humour at its best ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jerkyjudas at 23:32, 21 September 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Guard - Dark but Charming Comedy

Eyond that the audience I watched this with folded into coniption after coniption at the artless end-of the-pier comedy? I enjoy the delightful back link] and forth in the diner between Gleeson and Cunningham. ... More

Posted by linkkei at 23:34, 19 September 2011 | Report This Post

The Guard - Dark but Charming Comedy

Resembles In Bruges though not as brilliant, but still entertaining and great fun. Brendon Gleeson simply steals the show. Another interesting review at of-guard-2011.html ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ravixant at 10:12, 16 September 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Guard

I absolutely loved this film. I think its the best I've seen this year, even better than Super 8. Brendan Gleeson is perfect in the role, as are the rest of the cast, especially his mother, who is a dead ringer for My Auntie Joan, in looks and in outlook (amyl nitrate vicar?). Well worth 5 stars in my humble opinion. PS Also loved In Bruges, but that's a different film isn't it? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by GCH at 09:08, 15 September 2011 | Report This Post


Gleeson, as always, is a genuine pleasure to watch, spouting out quotable lines after quotable lines, and manfully establishes himself as one of the finer talents in black comedy. The script is excellently written, with more comedic musings and material than In Bruges, whilst In Bruges may have better set pieces, I enjoy the delightful back and forth in the diner between Gleeson and Cunningham. It gave me a flashback to Heat, with De Niro and Pacino squaring off, with all their heart and soul ba... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RhysEdwards at 16:31, 10 September 2011 | Report This Post

No way 5 stars

It was a good simple little film. But in no way could you say it was a 5 star film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by chris wootton at 14:06, 01 September 2011 | Report This Post

Maybe Not 5 stars but a good night out

I enjoyed this film although I wasn't always sure whether those laughing loudest at some of the edgier dialogue were doing so because they thought it outrageous or because they heartily agreed with it. I took a vacation in Galway and Clare in June and the film made good use of the region's scenery and attrocious weather. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MMoscow at 19:09, 27 August 2011 | Report This Post

Enjoyable but reliant on stereotype

If Boyle was a policeman anywhere else (except for some of the more redneck US states) and displayed his sort of arrogant laissez-faire attitude his name would be straight on the desk of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Somewhat predictably, despite his attitude, he wins out (sort of) in a somewhat undercooked crime jape. Some classic one liners but the fim overal is hardly 5 star classic, good though it is. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 10:05, 27 August 2011 | Report This Post

When the kid salutes, a tear came to my eye

Spot on review. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FuzzyMcfae at 15:55, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Guard

Solely worth watching for Gleason. Everyone else dire. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 01:52, 26 August 2011 | Report This Post

The Guard

Enjoyed it, but it's no In Bruges. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 21:14, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Guard

Really enjoyed this Gleeson should definetly get some award recognition. ... More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 09:43, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post

RE: The Guard

My local Cineworld isn't even showing this! Bah. It is showing Glee the movie and The Smurfs in 3D. What is wrong with the world?! ... More

Posted by jmebaby25 at 07:38, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post

5 Stars? Really???

Really enjoyed this film and the shoot-out was more exciting than any recent Hollywood action scene I have seen. Not sure I loved it as much as the critics though. They might have enjoyed it more as it came as a surprise to them as opposed to viewers who are watching it after all the hype. Definitely not a 5 star Empire. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by El_Javster at 07:11, 24 August 2011 | Report This Post

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