At first, when Boyle and his clueless partner Aidan (Rory Keenan) find a murder victim with Bible pages stuffed in his mouth and the number "5½" written on the wall in blood, Boyle doesn't seem to think anything will come of it. Connemara's a quiet place, and it's clear that Boyle's far more invested in sharing a few wicked laughs with his dying mother (Fionnula Flannagan), picking up hookers (Dominique McElligott and Sarah Greene), and occasionally saying a thing or two just to get a rise out of any of the numerous stiffs surrounding him than he is in wasting time trying to solve a crime he won't necessarily have the resources or freedom to fully investigate.
When Wendell arrives, however, Boyle seems to light up. Wendell is a decent family man with good morals, and over the course of several beers and multiple uncomfortable interactions, Gerry sizes up his partner. Even when Boyle says something purely to get a rise out of Wendell, no matter how outrageous it is, he does it as a means of locating their common ground. To that end, Gleeson imbues Gerry with sharp observational skills, self-awareness, and ultimately, a genuine kind-heartedness that shows through even when Gerry's at his most biting. On the opposite side of the table, Cheadle gives a wonderfully funny, reactive performance as Wendell starts to accept the way in which Gerry is testing him. Boyle may be harsh, but as Wendell's investigation continues, it becomes clear that he's trustworthy and reliable for the exact same reasons.
Aside from Boyle and Wendell, the film has its ups and downs. Early scenes with Gerry and Aidan pale in comparison to what comes later, exhibiting a rougher, cruder sense of humor. The trio of gangsters behind the drugs, Sheehy (Liam Cunningham), Liam (David Wilmot), and Clive (Mark Strong), as funny as they are, are built around the simpler, more familiar gag of verbose and intelligent gangsters. The best scene with any of the gangsters, which finds Clive at a payoff, has an air of awkwardly-written exposition to it, even if Strong really sells the jokes. On the other hand, Flannagan is wonderful as Gerry's mother, and the bond they share is almost as evenly matched as the one Gerry shares with Wendell.
Flaws and all, McDonagh finds the right note on which to tie everything together, resulting in a wonderfully satisfying conclusion set at a boat dock with significant western overtones. The Guard may not fit into the "buddy cop" genre, which is all about surface differences, but plays off of it in a pleasing way: where some movies start with a growing friendship that ultimately turns into professional respect when they realize their goals are aligned, McDonagh does the opposite, turning a begrudging professional respect into an unorthodox friendship that neither of the two men would've guessed they wanted.
The Video and Audio
English Dolby Digital 5.1 is strong, cleanly handling a number of potentially indecipherable accents with a relative ease. The trumpet-heavy music by Calexico, which will no doubt inspire thoughts of classic westerns, is nicely spread out across the soundfield. Gunfire is well-emphasized. Overall separation could be a little stronger (although I admit I might just be reflecting on the Blu-Ray's HD audio), but on the whole, I had no real problems with this audio track. Five subtitle tracks are also available: an English track with black boxes around the words to separate them from anything on-screen, one without the boxes, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and subtitles for the audio commentary track.
"The Making of The Guard" (19:21): a breezy behind-the-scenes look that actually does a good job of capturing the upbeat atmosphere of the set, which is rare in an EPK. An unseen interviewer (director Elizabeth Eves, no doubt) wanders around getting the usual EPK information, but does so with a light touch that results in many of the actors chuckling through their interviews. Viewers will no doubt appreciate the chance to see Don Cheadle's Christopher Walken impression, a hilarious montage of McDonagh slightly adjusting various pieces of various sets, and everyone just appearing to have a great time working on the movie. If only all EPKs were this likable.
"The Second Death" (11:32): A dramatic short film by John Michael, with several cast members from The Guard and an early version of the Gerry Boyle character.
Outtakes (3:05): Pretty standard-issue, but offers a few good chuckles.
"Q&A With Actors Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, and Director John Michael McDonagh" (18:09): Standard Q&A, which means the questions are a little bit dry, and the actors and director try and make the best of them. The loose chat does cover some of the topics ignored by the commentary, such as reflections upon the script.
3 deleted scenes (6:07) and 12 extended and alternate scenes (18:37): They may be an amusing moment or two here, but the vast majority of material here was wisely cut from the finished film. Many of the latter are also extended only by a line or two, yet are essentially presented in their entirety.
Trailers for Higher Ground, Life Above All, Take Shelter, A Dangerous Method, Carnage, and The Skin I Live In play before the main menu. The Guard's original theatrical trailer has also been included.