Monday, August 11, 2008

In Bruges

Man I love being surprised by movies.  Sometimes a movie just looks terrible, but then enough people start discussing how good the film is, and well, it's only a matter of time before you break down and watch the movie.  This is the case with In Bruges, a film that was marketed horribly with its awful trailers making the film look like just another Pulp Fiction wannabe (is that even possible 10+ years later?) -- Things to in Denver When You're Dead and 2 Days in the Valley sprang to mind when I saw the trailer, and if you remember those films, then you can see why I was less than enthusiastic about giving the film a shot.  Boy was I wrong.  In Bruges is a great film full of surprises; a film that is one of those rare experiences where you feel as if you don't know what's going to happen next.  It's vulgar and violent, beautifully juxtaposed by the main character of the film, the city of Bruges, with its historic architecture and beautiful art galleries.  It's a near brilliant film with a few odd detours that derail the films momentum, but it is brilliant if not for the sole reason that I was surprised how good the film was.

The film written and directed by the playwright Martin McDonagh (his first feature) is not so much quirky as it is distinct; a unique blend of vulgarity and contemplative moments about heaven and hell.  It stars Colin Farrell and the always great Brendan Gleeson as two hit men who are told to take two weeks off in the historic Belgium city Bruges.  The reason for the sabbatical is because of Ray (Farrell), who was asked to kill a priest, but when he shot the priest he accidentally shot a little kid praying (sounds implausible, but the way McDonagh sets you up for this scene is masterful).  This bit of collateral damage is made all the sadder when Ray sees a small piece of paper that has what the kid was praying about -- this moment is rare in that it evokes both poignancy and laughter, something that McDonagh and especially his actors pull off extremely well throughout out the film.

While in Bruges the characters are established.  You have Ray the young and brash hitman, suffering from his mistake on his last hit, and bored to tears in Bruges, where all he wants to do is drink and hang around a film set that has set up shop in the city.  Ken (Gleeson) is the veteran who is interested in getting Ray to put the incident of the kid behind him and focus more on sight-seeing and what the historic city has to offer.  One of the best scenes between these two in the city is when they are in an art gallery.  The images of the art contrasted with the face of Farrell (who has great facial expressions throughout) are wonderful and are a perfect example of the uniqueness of the film.

While in Bruges things happen (odd things involving racist dwarves and crazy canadians) that are hit and miss, but the heart of the story is what happens between Ken and Ray and how Ken so badly wants to help Ray get over his mistake and move on.  There is a scene of tremendous, surprising power on a park bench when Ray is trying to talk to Ken about what happened that day.  It's a great scene and shows that when Farrell is comfortable (usually when he can just be himself and talk in his native tongue) he can be a great actor.   I wouldn't dare reveal how the film unfolds (which is half the fun of the movie) but things happen and information is gathered, all resulting in the appearance of Ralph Fiennes as Harry who is their boss.  Fiennes is wonderful, having a lot of fun overacting and doing his best Ben Kingsley impersonation (I'm thinking of the Sexy Beast Kingsley, not the Gandhi Kingsley).  All of this culminates in a final 30 minutes that is just absolutely brilliant with visual nods to films like Touch of Evil and The Third Man and some truly inspired dialogue (especially how the dialogue reveals these three hitmen as having ethics and how they adhere to these ethics).

In Bruges is a film for anyone despite the way the trailer advertises it; it's a film for anyone who loves movies.  As mentioned earlier the movie does get sidetracked with a drug induced conversation between Ken and Ray, a movie star dwarf, and some hookers.  This scene tries a little too hard I think to be "edgy" or whatever, and it just falls flat.  It just doesn't belong in this movie, there was really no need for it considering the first half of the film was vulgar and un-PC enough.  However, it's a rare kind of film that Roger Ebert described as good a debut as Mamet's House of Games, and I think that's a good comparison.  With it's vulgar dialogue, sudden bursts of bloody (McDonaugh likes to use the color red) violence, it's beautiful on location cinematography, and its wonderful acting it's one of the better and most surprising movies of 2008.


  1. Fine, you win. I'll watch it.

    Colin Ferrel. Feh.

  2. This is one of those films that for me settled into artistically middling territory, not because it was mediocre, but because it was good with flaws that nagged me to the point of distraction. A great film to talk about and pick apart, but not really a great film per se. (I'd throw last year's Into the Wild in that category as well, as well as Tell No One, since I just saw it and have been thinking about it.) I will say that the performances in In Bruges are great, and the script is delightfully theatrical. Worth a rental, definitely.

    My original review from last February here.

  3. Andrew --

    You are correct. It is a great film to talk about, but as you say, not a great film per se. I think the reason why my review comes off as so glowing was because of how surprised I was by the film. I loved your review, by the way. Thanks for the comment.