It was a good day for writer/director John Michael McDonagh when the Mismatched Buddy-Cop Random Cast-O-Mizer 9000 landed on the names of Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle. The pairing seems almost too random, but if you make Gleeson an Irish small-town cop and Cheadle an FBI agent looking for drug smugglers on the coast, it’s almost plausible. Steal a little from In the Heat of the Night and you have yourself a movie.
They Call Me MISTER Doyle
We first meet Doyle (Gleeson) as he approaches the scene of a car crash, emotionless, and checks the pulse of a young man he knows from the village. Corpse. Just another day on the job. The next day he finds another corpse, this time a murder victim with all sorts of interesting clues left near the body — a potted plant, a bible verse, and a number painted on the wall in blood. The young new guy speculates on what each clue might mean, and Doyle humors all of his oddball theories, as though he were the junior cop.
The film’s larger plot unfolds when the Americans arrive. The FBI are in Ireland, with their impressive suits and guns and crime labs. Doyle is summoned, along with all of the local constabulary, to be briefed by the Americans and to support them in tracking down some big-time drug smugglers. There are four suspects — three Irish and one English. Doyle plays the dumb, racist yokel for a while (or maybe he really is) before letting on that one of their suspects is in his morgue.
Cheadle sums up Doyle’s delightfully enigmatic character when he says “I don’t know if you’re motherfucking stupid or motherfucking smart.”
Cheadle’s character is agent Wendell Everett. With his crisp suit, professional demeanor, and distinctly non-Irish-looking face, he finds it hard to interact with the locals, who pretend not to understand English when he asks them about suspicious activity in their little hamlet. He has to rely on Doyle for local information, which he hates. In fact, much of Cheadle’s job in this movie is to bluster and fume about Doyle’s police work, which sometimes involves tipping a pint or two and playing pinball.
Filling In the Background
Rookie writer/director McDonagh has a short resume — he’s best known as the brother of Martin McDonagh, the director of In Bruges. He’s a competent director, but a better screenwriter. The Guard lets us see a little more deeply into Doyle’s character when it shows him bringing whisky to his mother (Fionnula Flanagan) in her nursing home. We see that Doyle and his mum have no illusions and no regret; she jokes about being able to use some of those drugs he’s chasing and you believe that if it would help, he’d bring her some.
McDonagh also gives us a little insight into the drug dealers. Their scenes are played mostly for comedy, although they are ruthless when they have to be. They talk philosophy in the long boring nights in their car, and the Englishman wishes he had a better job and smarter coworkers.
And McDonagh even gives some of the locals more than background-filler status. The local chapter of IRA operates under Doyle’s nose, and he pretends not to notice most of the small stuff. A local boy who must be bored as hell with his small-town life keeps turning up as a sort of Greek chorus to Doyle’s reveries.
The only real weakness in The Guard is the “climactic” shootout ending that is written and paced awkwardly — as though McDonagh contracted the scene out to the Climax-O-Mizer 9000. Luckily, McDonagh adds another minute or two to end the film on something he’s better at: a character, a thought, and a smile.