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The classic Irish sitcom Father Ted had a great conceit: its characters just happened to be priests, but first, foremost and with extreme fallibility they were, simply, humans.

We’ve seen this trick before in cop films, but John Michael McDonagh’s melancholic comedy displays much of Ted’s cock-eyed charm.

Without overstating its similarities to the darker In Bruges, directed by McDonagh’s brother Martin, let’s just say this: Mrs McDonagh should very proud indeed.

We first meet Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) of the Galway Garda as he confiscates drugs from a dead joyrider. “I don’t think your mammy would be too pleased about that now,” he tuts paternally, before popping a tab of acid and deciding, “What a beautiful fucking day!”

Except for the narcotics, Boyle’s a decent policeman, sniffing out human truths like Fargo’s Marge Gunderson, although smugglers Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong and the intrusion of FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) conspire to queer his parochial pitch.

Although the ensuing Hot Fuzz-isms have been done a hundred times before (hence the standard-issue final shootout), The Guard goes for – and gets – big, character-based belly laughs, managing to be broad and intimate, authentic and escapist at the same time.

Brought to life with gusto, Boyle is equal parts cynic (“You’re boring the hole off me!” he tells a colleague) and sentimentalist (“I’d like to have a family, but I’m too busy whoring it around”).

It’s a great performance and a hell of a character – profane, contradictory, ineffably alive.

Patrolling the dark/light divide so confidently even the IRA nab legitimate laughs, The Guard is a cracker of a film and Sergeant Gerry Boyle a comedy creation for the ages.

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Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.