The Guard (2011 film)

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The Guard
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Produced by Chris Clark
Flora Fernandez-Marengo
Ed Guiney
Andrew Lowe
Written by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleeson
Don Cheadle
Mark Strong
Liam Cunningham
Fionnula Flanagan
Music by Calexico
Cinematography Larry Smith
Edited by Chris Gill
Reprisal Films
Element Pictures
Crescendo Productions
Aegis Film Fund
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
Running time
92 minutes (Original release)
96 minutes (US release)
Country Ireland
Language English
Budget $6 million[1]
Box office $19,560,274[1]

The Guard is a 2011 English-language Irish comedy film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham.[2][3] It is the most successful Irish film of all time in terms of Irish box-office receipts, overtaking The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) that previously held this status.[4]


Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is a Sergeant in the Garda Síochána, stationed in the Connemara Gaeltacht of western Ireland. He is crass, confrontational, and regularly indulges in alcohol, narcotics, and prostitutes while on duty. Despite this, Sgt. Boyle lives by a very strict ethical code and shows love and concern for his ailing mother, Eileen (Flanagan).

Sgt. Boyle joins his new subordinate, Garda Aidan McBride (Keenan), to investigate a murder in their jurisdiction, with evidence apparently pointing to an occult serial killer. Shortly after, Boyle attends a briefing by FBI Special Agent Wendell Everett (Cheadle). Agent Everett has been sent to liaise with the Garda in hunting down four Irish drug traffickers, led by Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (Cunningham), who are believed to have arranged a seaborne shipment of cocaine worth an estimated one half billion American Dollars. To Everett's shock, Sgt. Boyle recognises one of the men in Everett's slide show as the victim of the murder he and McBride had been investigating.

As Sgt. Boyle drives the Agent to the crime scene, Garda McBride pulls over a speeding car driven by Sheehy and his lieutenants Clive Cornell (Strong) and Liam O'Leary (Wilmot). After Sheehy sadistically boasts that he knows all about him, Garda McBride is shot dead.

Garda McBride's wife, Gabriela (Čas), reports her husband's disappearance to Boyle. A Croatian national, she explains that her marriage to Garda McBride was arranged so that she could gain an Irish visa. As her husband was secretly a homosexual, it also allowed him "to look respectable." Suspecting the worst, Sgt. Boyle promises to look into it.

The strait-laced Everett decides that he and Boyle should team up to track down Sheehy and his men. Unimpressed, Boyle announces that he has better things to do. Later, while Everett makes the rounds, he encounters Irish-speaking residents who refuse to answer him in English and the traditional Irish refusal to assist law enforcement, Boyle has a sexual encounter with two prostitutes (McElligott and Greene) at a hotel. On his drive back from the hotel, Boyle spots McBride's Garda car at a local "suicide hotspot" along the coast, but does not believe that McBride killed himself. Meeting Everett at a local bar, Boyle listens as the Agent laments that law enforcement in Ireland is just like trying to investigate gang violence in Compton. Then, Sgt. Boyle notices a CCTV camera and remembers that the original suspect in the first murder claimed to be frequenting the very same establishment at the time of the killing.

Looking over the footage from the time of the murder, they see that the suspect's alibi is valid – and a stunned Agent Everett also spots Sheehy and Cornell at the bar at the same time.

Meanwhile, Cornell delivers a bribe to Sgt. Boyle's Garda superiors, who promise to divert manpower away from the shipment when it arrives in Spiddal. They warn, however, that Sgt. Boyle "is too unpredictable" and will cause trouble for them. After brutally beating one of Sgt. Boyle's favorite call girls, Sheehy arranges a meeting with him. Sheehy threatens to use Boyle's encounter with the two prostitutes to get him fired and then offers him a bribe. After expressing his hatred for "cunts who beat up on women", Boyle shocks Sheehy by contemptuously refusing the money.

Tipped off by a young boy named Eugene (Lane), Boyle discovers a weapons cache hidden in a local bog by the Provisional IRA and arranges its return to them. The IRA man expresses shock that the cache is now missing an AK-47, a revolver, and a derringer. After acting insulted, Sgt. Boyle is promised that the IRA will do him any favor he asks in return.

After having her last wish to hear a live pub band fulfilled, Boyle's mother dies.

Meeting at the bar again, Everett tells Boyle that Garda sources indicate Sheehy's shipment will be coming into County Cork and that he is leaving to investigate. Returning home, Boyle is confronted in his living room by O'Leary, who has been ordered by Sheehy to kill him. Holding the Sergeant at gunpoint and visibly enjoying himself, O'Leary boasts that Garda McBride was buried at sea and that "little fishies will have eaten him by now." The drugs will be landed in Spiddal that very night and the trio's Garda protectors have ordered all personnel to be far away.

Much to O'Leary's amusement, Sgt. Boyle begins scratching his groin. Believing that the Sergeant caught crabs from a prostitute, O'Leary quips that he has only himself to blame. To his shock, however, Boyle pulls out the derringer from the cache and fatally shoots O'Leary.

As the gangster's life drains away, Sgt. Boyle mocks his bottomless self-pity and calls Everett to tell him that the Cork lead is a decoy arranged by corrupt officers.

As Everett drives to Spiddal, Sgt. Boyle tells Gabriella, whom he now has feelings for, of her husband's murder. Although she clearly loves him, too, and begs him not to leave, Sgt. Boyle insists that he needs to do so. As Gabriella dissolves into tears, Sgt. Boyle drives towards Spiddal.

As Sheehy's vessel is berthed and Sheehy's men unload the cocaine, Everett arrives and is horrified by Boyle's description of corruption in the Garda. Sgt. Boyle laments that Sheehy’s corrupt Garda protectors will never forget or forgive what he is about to do. Therefore, he may have to disappear.

Handing Everett the AK-47 from the arms cache, Sgt. Boyle explains that there is now only one way to bring the trio to justice now. He urges Everett to give him covering fire as he moves to arrest Sheehy and Cornell. Everett at first recoils, saying that for him to fire an illegal firearm in the middle of Ireland "will cause an international incident." Changing his mind, Everett opens fire as Boyle – taking a flesh wound to the arm – guns down Cornell with the revolver from the cache before leaping onto the boat to deal with Sheehy.

As Agent Everett’s gunfire sets the boat alight, Sgt. Boyle shoots Sheehy and leaves him to burn alive in the main cabin as the boat explodes.

The next day, a despondent Everett looks out over Galway Bay, believing Boyle to be dead. Eugene, standing nearby, mentions that Boyle was a good swimmer, having claimed to have been placed fourth at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, a claim that Everett had incredulously dismissed. A young photographer (Kinlan) comments that it would be easy enough to look up.

The film then flashes back to Everett's comment that he couldn't decide whether Sgt. Boyle was really dumb or really, really smart. Back in the present, Agent Everett smiles to himself, having finally found the answer.

The credits roll to John Denver's Leaving on a Jet Plane, implying that Sgt. Boyle survived and chose to leave Ireland.




Film producers include Chris Clark, Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe, with executive producers Paul Brett, Don Cheadle, Martin McDonagh (brother of John Michael), David Nash, Ralph Kamp, Lenore Zerman and associate producer Elizabeth Eves.[2] Director John Michael McDonagh is known for his screenplay for the 2003 film Ned Kelly and as writer/director of the 2000 film The Second Death.[2] Cinematographer Larry Smith is known for his work on Eyes Wide Shut and production designer John-Paul Kelly for his work on Venus.[2][5][6]


Principal filming began on 29 October 2009, in Leitir Móir (Lettermore) Co. Galway. Filming took place over a six-week period in Connemara, Leitir Móir, Leitir Mealláin (Lettermullen), An Spidéal and Bearna with some scenes for filming in Wicklow and Dublin.[2] Involved companies are Reprisal Films and Element Pictures in association with Prescience, Aegis Film Fund, UK Film Council and Crescendo Productions, with the participation of An Bord Scannán na hÉireann (Irish Film Board).[2]

International sales were handled by Metropolis Films and the film was released by Element Pictures Distribution in Ireland,[2][5][6] Optimum Releasing in the United Kingdom, Sony Pictures Classics in the United States and Alliance Films in Canada.


Reviews for The Guard were overwhelmingly positive. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 95% approval rating with an average rating of 7.7/10 based on 121 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "A violent, crackerjack comedy with a strong Irish flavor and an emminently likable Brendan Gleeson in the main role."[7] On the review aggregator Metacritic, the film has a score of 78 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

In The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy wrote: "Scabrous, profane, violent, verbally adroit and very often hilarious, this twisted and exceptionally accomplished variation on the buddy-cop format is capped by a protean performance by Brendan Gleeson a defiantly iconoclastic West of Ireland policeman."[9] Vanity Fair‍ '​s John Lopez wrote: "So far, The Guard has been the most thoroughly enjoyable film experience at Sundance, a nice change of pace from the anomie, alienated angst and melancholy of other films.[10] In Screen International, David D'Arcy wrote: "As a director, McDonagh avoids the grand gesture and focuses on his web of odd characters that call to mind the comedies of Preston Sturges."[11] Justin Chang of Variety wrote: "The film making crackles with energy, from Chris Gill's crisp editing and Calexico's ever-inventive score to d.p. Larry Smith's dynamic camerawork, alternating between bright, almost candy-coloured interiors and shots of Galway's grey, rugged landscape."[12]

In The Times, Wendy Ide wrote: "Without doubt the strongest debut film of the year so far, this sly, witty and provocative Irish black comedy is an exceptionally funny crowd-pleaser and a playful cine-literate exercise, laced with arcane movie references... Gleeson must be thanking whatever guardian angel oversees his career for the brothers McDonagh giving him two of his meatiest roles yet."[13] Georgie Hobbs of Little White Lies wrote: "Unexpectedly hilarious, The Guard is the triumphant directorial debut of Ned Kelly screenwriter (and brother of In Bruges director Martin), John Michael McDonagh... This confident film knows full well how funny it is, daring to provoke with unfettered 'unPCness' a-plenty."[14]



  1. ^ a b "The Guard (2011)". Box Office Mojo. 29 July 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Cheadle & Gleeson Join Forces For 'The Guard’". IFTN. 29 October 2009. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  3. ^ Jaafar, Ali (4 November 2009). "Gleeson, Cheadle join 'Guard'". Variety. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  4. ^ "'The Guard' Topples 'Barley' to Become No. 1 Indie Irish Film". IFTN. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Cooper, Sarah (2 November 2009). "Brendan Gleeson joins Irish comedy thriller The Guard". Screen International. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  6. ^ a b Hayden, Esther (4 November 2009). "Gleeson and Cheadle line up for new movie". Bray People. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  7. ^ "The Guard (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Guard". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  9. ^ McCarthy, Todd,"Brendan Gleeson Shines in The Guard. Hollywood Reporter review of 27th Sundance Film Festival",, 21 January 2011
  10. ^ Lopez, John, "Park City Thrills to The Guard. Vanity Fair review of 27th Sundance Film Festival",, 23 Jan 2011
  11. ^ D'Arcy, David,"The Guard. Screen International review of Sundance 2011",, 21 January 2011
  12. ^ Chang, Justin,"Sundance: The Guard. Variety review of Sundance 2011",, 21 January 2011
  13. ^ Ide, Wendy, "The Guard at the Edinburgh Film Festival",, 16 June 2011
  14. ^ Hobbs, Georgie,"Berlin International Film Festival 2011 – Round Up: Part II",, 28 February 2011
  15. ^ "Brendan Gleeson's The Guard wins Guardian award". BBC News – Entertainment and Arts. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  16. ^ Pulver, Andrew (9 February 2012). "Guardian first film award: The Guard". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 

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