For the second time in the last five years, Brendan Gleeson almost stole the best performance of the year with his role in The Guard, and if it wasn't for the fact that I saw The Artist in May, he would undoubtedly have been the best. As Sergeant Gerry Boyle - admittedly a very generously written character - Gleeson is at his cantankerous, lopsided best, marrying a brash, earthy masculinity with infinite amounts of charm bubbling under the surface and a disarming likability that makes even the most disdainful comments he makes utterly forgivable. It is Boyle's world that director John Michael McDonagh has chosen to set The Guard - his Western inspired, anti-hero driven comedy, which sits comfortably within the odd-couple police genre, but also turns the entire thing on its head. That world is bleak but beautiful Connemara, a sleepy Irish coastal town full of the kind of characters forged by fearsome winds and near relentless rain. The cinematography frames that landscape beautifully, expressing a fundamental similarity between the rolling planes, wind-swept but defined by a rugged beauty and the film's reluctant hero. In fact Boyle is an anti-hero to end them all - he is petulant, anti-social (to the point of sociopathy), debauched and hugely controversial, courting a rise out of all around him with beyond tongue-in-cheek politically incorrect witticisms delivered with Sahara-like dryness and catastrophic precision. Flawed is not the word. As the events of the narrative unfold around him, taking in murder, an international drug dealing ring and corruption to the highest level, Boyle seems never more than mildly diverted from his stoic antipathy. Whether it is the escalation of the crimes his usually quiet home town is forced to suffer, or the appearance of FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), Boyle has an attack of morality, and he puts aside his apathy to sort out the drug crimes, take down the bad guys and generally bring a sense of what is right and proper back to Connemara. Sort of like Die Hard, but starring the most perverse John McClane imaginable. A lot of the film's charm comes from the relationship between Wendell and Boyle, with a heavy riff on the odd-couple buddy-cop movie, but executed with a damn sight more intelligence, with both Gleeson and Cheadle on grand form. The film is not quite as good as those two performances, but it certainly has its moments. There are some fine performances from more minor players, including Fionnula Flannagan as Boyle's mother, and Mark Strong as one of the trio of drug runners the cop duo must foil, and the film looks very good thanks to strong shot composition and a very pronounced aesthetic manifesto. It certainly isn't quite as good as In Bruges - a film it will invariably be mentioned alongside in almost every critical analysis - but then very few films are. The Guard and In Bruges are to Guy Ritchie's crime films what Alfred Hitchcock's work is to the Saw franchise - they might very basically be classed in the same genre, but the techniques and intelligence behind them are world's apart, and I could happily watch a lot more films from the same stable, and in the same style as The Guard without getting anywhere near as sick as I did of Ritchie's plastic gangster shtick.