The Guard sets the tone for what is to follow in the opening moments: a car-load of hopped up, obnoxious kids tears through the rugged Irish countryside before crashing and killing all inside. When the local guard (read: copper) Sergeant Gerry Boyle, played with aplomb by Brendan Gleeson, happens along he cheerfully lambasts the expired occupants before nipping a tab of E from one of the bodies. It is perhaps no surprise that this is from the brother of the director of the similarly PC-flouting In Bruges.
Things begin to heat up for the seemingly dimwitted bu truly intelligent Boyle when an international drug ring comes to town, with the FBI hot on their heels. Lead FBI investigator Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) is as uptight and by-the-book as Boyle is abrasive and loose. Classic buddy-cop formula! And in less thoughtful hands, that's all The Guard could have been - a formula film. But writer/director John Michael McDonagh is smarter than that. For one thing, there's more to Boyle than first glance would suggest - not only is he not as stupid as he seems, he's remarkably well read. And he's not an entirely ignorant and abrasive fellow - he has a warm relationship with his mam and, despite initial impressions (and, to be honest, ongoing ones) he and Everett bond. Boyle is a strange and complex character - he enjoys Tolstoy, drugs, threesomes with prostitutes and catching bad guys (if only to nick a little bit of their drugs for himself).
Things get a bit shaggy midway through as Boyle and Everett constantly vacillate between co-operation and bickering, with the relationship never quite hitting a smooth rhythm. And that relationship is central to the whole buddy-cop genre - it certainly isn't enough to derail the film or lessen the enjoyment to be had but it would have elevated everything is these two characters could have found an easier rhythm to settle in to. The three drug dealers (including another great turn from Mark Strong) have an easier rapport - whether it be discussing philosophy quotes or a murder - they give the feeling of three different people working towards the same goal.
All that said, The Guard is a genuinely, easily funny film with a complex and rascally central character to guide you through. It possesses more smarts, wit and outrageousness than any Hangovers could hope to.