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SUNDANCE: 'The Guard,' Starring Brendan Gleeson, Receives Raucous Reception

The Guard
Jonathan Hession

PARK CITY -- The Guard, a dark comedy written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, opened Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition to a receptive and sometimes raucous Egyptian Theatre audience Thursday night.

The film, which stars Brendan Gleeson as salty, small town Irish policeman, and Don Cheadle as a straitlaced FBI agent chasing drug traffickers through Ireland, crackles with rapid-fire dialogue and sharp plotting. It’s a star turn for Gleeson, whose Sergeant Gerry Boyle is both confrontational and kind -- often at once.

“All the bile and hatred that built up over the years — I decided to put it in one character,” said McDonagh of Gleeson’s Boyle, a character who first made an appearance in the director’s 2000 short, The Second Death. The Guard is McDonagh’s feature directorial debut; he also wrote 2003’s Ned Kelly.

Gleeson’s scenes with Cheadle are electric, with the duo eviscerating typical buddy cop film talking points; their bickering and banter elicited some of the biggest laughs of the film.

But, every so often a joke or quick quip was lost on Sundance’s largely American audience, perhaps because of the Irish cultural references and a slew of thick accents that take a bit of time for American viewers to wrap their ears around. That could be an issue for the offbeat comedy as it looks to find a stateside indie audience.

If a comparison can be drawn, the film is reminiscent of the 2008 criminal caper In Bruges, at least in terms of tone. That makes sense — Gleeson stars in both films and Bruges writer/director Martin McDonough is the brother of John Michael McDonagh. Martin McDonagh also served as executive producer of The Guard.

John Michael McDonagh joked at the Q&A following the screening about his brother’s chief contribution to The Guard: Getting Gleeson to read the script.