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Rethinking St. Patrick's Day: In film, leave behind the obvious and check in with 'The Guard'

Posted 9:42am on Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

Most films set in Ireland are fanciful, blarney-bloated affairs that do little to reveal what's most alluring about the Emerald Isle. (Here's looking at you, Leap Year, you miserable piece of celluloid.)

It's the people -- hard-working, dryly funny and suspicious of modern ways -- that make Ireland such a wonderful place to visit (and, I'd imagine, to live). The Guard, a film about one particularly idiosyncratic Irish cop, captures this beautifully.

Starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle and directed by John Michael McDonagh (who also wrote the screenplay), The Guard takes tired Hollywood tropes (the fish-out-of-water foreigner, the gruesome crime procedural) and imbues them with the spark of life. Gleeson portrays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a plainspoken man of many vices (he's quite fond of prostitutes, for example) who reluctantly teams up with FBI agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle) to bring down a global cocaine-smuggling ring headed by a local troublemaker, the violent Clive Cornell (Mark Strong).

Usually, the hesitation for movie cops to collaborate comes from their different approaches to the job -- and there's certainly plenty of that, with Boyle's shaggy style contrasting sharply with Everett's by-the-bookishness -- but The Guard finds its laughs in how put out Boyle is with having to reorient his life and actually do some detective work. He's a deceptively perceptive fella, and Gleeson (a Dublin native) makes the most of this boisterous character, adding considerable texture to The Guard.

Shot on location in County Galway and County Wicklow, along the coasts of Ireland, The Guard pulls as much inspiration from its setting as it does its characters. Ireland is a windswept, occasionally forlorn place given to moments of breathtaking beauty.

It's welcoming as much as it's alienating; some of my fondest travel memories are of conversations late into the night at a Dublin pub nearly a decade ago. That gruff friendliness is unforgettable and embodied perfectly in the character of Gerry Boyle.

The Guard, which had a blink-and-miss-it run in theaters and is now out on Blu-ray and DVD, gives viewers something all Irish films should aspire to: entertainment and enlightenment.

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