SOME THINGS are much, much better on film than in reality: life in New York City, high school, certain sex acts. Corrupt cops fall into that category—I sure wouldn't want to meet one, but in cinema, upping the ante on Barney Miller pays off. And even funnier than a bumbling small-town cop is a bumbling small-town cop who's deep into hookers and blow.
Which brings us to The Guard, a new Irish film directed by John Michael McDonagh. (Fun fact: His brother is playwright/director Martin McDonagh, who also produced The Guard.) Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a cop drifting along the surface of small-town crime fighting, lifting drugs from crime scenes and generally pursuing incompetence as the most convenient course of action. Despite his many flaws, Gerry is somehow likeable in Gleeson's hands: He's lazy and indifferent, sure, but ultimately neither stupid nor cruel. He's just figured out how to live life the way he wants it—a little power, a little cocaine, and cheerful prostitutes for company, preferably two at a time.
All this changes when a local murder is found to have connections to an international drug ring. Cue the entrance of a relentlessly competent FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who provides an odd-couple foil for the provincial, kinda-racist Gerry.
The plot lands somewhere between Hot Fuzz and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans, but like those films, The Guard is defined by a bone-dry sense of humor all its own. Audience members looking for a straightforward cop drama will be disappointed, because the real reason The Guard succeeds is the fundamental cynicism at its core. The Guard doesn't believe that all problems have solutions, or that doing the right things means everything will work out. Kinda the opposite, in fact—it's a pointed send-up of Hollywood crime clichés, grounded just solidly enough in the bickery rapport of Cheadle and Gleeson.