In the midst of soulless 3D CGI spectaculars dominating our multiplexes, John Michael McDonagh's debut feature The Guard provides us with one of the lower key offerings at the cinema this summer, unsurprisingly packing the most heart in the process.
With the likes of The Hangover 2 and Bridesmaids dominating the box office takings in the comedy genre with their brash, over-hyped nature, leave it to the Irish to produce one of the best you'll see in the cinema this year, already taking huge plaudits at this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Brenden Gleeson and Don Cheadle star in a black comedy about a member of the Republic of Ireland's Garda and America's FBI who team up to take down an international drug smuggling gang in the Connemara district in the West of Ireland.
I'll probably concede that if you don't come from either side of the boarder in Ireland some of the more obscure cultural references might be lost on you. Like any Irish comedy it's a very knowing, ironic kind of humour, obviously with much swearing and the odd bit of violence thrown in for good measure. Be it the constant slagging of Dublin city boys, Limerick's notorious reputation as the crime capital of the island - once considered 'the murder capital of Europe' believe it or not - as well as poking fun at the somewhat lax attitude towards the persistent drugs war still being battled within that region of country.
However with the sheer brilliant comedy timing of Gleeson as the unorthodox, playfully racist, Sergeant Gerry Boyle it's genuinely impossible not to find yourself sincerely laughing out loud at times.While Don Cheadle served his purpose as the strait-laced wingman to Gleeson's preposterous nature, and a POV for audiences less local than the one this reviewer was sitting with, it was the unexpectedly classy home-grown support cast who takes most of the plaudits in this one.
Liam Cunningham was terrific alongside the psuedo philosophical, Mark Strong and their sociopath henchman, David Wilmot as the not so sinister villains of the piece, always trying their hardest to go against the grain of daft American cop show clichés. The youngest member of the cast, Michael Og Lane was one of those surprising revelations in a film this low-key and provided the audience with some near scene stealing moments as the mischievous lad is caught out trying to nick a couple of guns from Gleeson when he uncovers a stash of weapons abandoned by the IRA.
One of the more surprising aspects of the film was the odd occasion by the director to slow down the outrageous hysterics and revert to the emotional struggle Gleeson had with his dying mother, played with much grace by the brilliant Fionnula Flanagan. Two quite potent moments of Flanagan confessing her sins one last time in church and then experience live music in the bar for old time's sake. Normally this might slow down and detract but it managed to round Gleeson's character off in similar ways to how he was portrayed in 2008's excellent black comedy, In Bruges.
Visually, McDonagh uses Connemara's bleak, boggy landscapes to their full potential, producing some really warm earthly camera-work beautifully. The script's balance of cheap laughs next to the story flows perfectly, never really once becoming a parody of itself.
The Guard feels like it's taken some of the situations from Edgar Wright's excellent Hot Fuzz and thrown it into the strange world of possibly the greatest Channel 4 comedy ever, Father Ted. Brenden Gleeson once again cements himself as one of Ireland's brightest acting talents - as if anyone really needed more convincing. It's genuinely funny, at times truly outrageous and above all packs plenty of real heart. It might not be the biggest, loudest, most visually spectacular film you'll see in the cinema this summer, but it might just be one of the best.
The Guard is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from July 8th 2011.