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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Black Irish Comedy

The Guard Opens in Milwaukee

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Sgt. Boyle of the Irish police, the Garda, barely blinks. Bored out of his mind while running radar for speeders. He listens as a car of boozed-up delinquents careens off the road and crashes. Calmly inspecting the bodies strewn across the pavement, he discovers a baggie of acid tabs in one of their pockets. "I don't think your mommy would be too pleased about that," he says, tossing the bag into the sea. But he keeps one tab for himself. "What a beautiful fucking day," he announces, phlegmatic as ever.

The opening scene of The Guard, a black comedy written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, only begins to sketch the sergeant's character. Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a baked potato of a man, thick skinned and bulging in the middle, punching buttons with his rude, crude, racist remarks. But early on he reveals unexpected flashes of wit and a surprising breadth of knowledge. Paired with visiting FBI Special Agent Everett (Don Cheadle) in a drug trafficking investigation, the odd couple team (Everett is from Kenosha!) finds common ground in their shared desire to crack the case.

A deliberately uncomfortable juxtaposition of comedy and drama, The Guard is also a pop-culture-savvy spoof of police procedurals, spaghetti westerns and quaint cinematic expectations of rural Ireland. The rainy precincts Boyle patrols can be an inhospitable place for the law, even when the law is up to its nose in corruption. Boyle isn't entirely an honest cop, but has a crooked sort of integrity and utter contempt for the pomposity and pretense. He's essentially a lonely guy, caring for a mother dying of cancer and treating himself to hookers on his day off; he's also more literate than he'd admit in the station house, and whiles away his evenings with Chet Baker on the stereo.

The Guard manages to keep the laughter coming as the body count slowly mounts. The screenplay holds interest as the character study of a one-of-a-kind man, a bespoke eccentric in a world of off the rack, ready-to-wear personalities.

Opens Sept. 2, Oriental Theatre