Laura CliffordTwo hit men from Dublin, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), are ordered by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to cool there heels in the beautiful medieval Belgian city of Bruges (pronounced “bruuzh”). Ken loves the opportunity to explore the fairytale town but Raymond thinks the place is a s**thole. Their lives irrevocably change in unexpected directions as personal and professional relationships change their hearts and minds after their arrival “In Bruges.”
Freshman feature filmmaker Martin McDonagh writes and directs a remarkable little film that deftly moves from irreverent and sometimes bawdy humor to tragedy as we get to know our two antagonistic protagonists, Ray and Ken. On the surface, it seems that the pair is simply waiting for their next assignment. As things unroll, we learn the true nature of events that brought them to Bruges and the reality of their business.
Brendan Gleeson is solid as the pragmatic Ken who appreciates the city and its fabulous art collections. (I especially like the use of Hieronymus Bosch’s wild visions of Hell as they parallel Ray’s angst.) But, it is Colin Farrell whom I note for one of the best, most fully nuanced performances in his career. Ralph Fiennes, as the boys’ foulmouthed boss, Harry, appears two-thirds of the way in (prior to that we just hear his swear-punctuated voice on the phone) and is a dynamo of bundle energy – murderous but with an odd religious integrity.
The rest of the cast serves the film well with Clemence Poesy as pretty Chloe who catches Ray’s eye when he comes across an on location film shoot. Thinking she is a production assistant, he asks her on a date but learns that things are not as they seem when her “boyfriend” Eirik (Jeremy Renier) catches them in an intimate situation. But, even this is not what it seems. Pregnant hotelier Marie (Thekla Reuten) gives a fully developed performance for such a small role – a lady who is ready to put herself and her baby in harm’s way to protect her guest, Ray. Jordan Prentice is a diminutive actor Jimmy who, in a drug and booze induced rage declares that there is a war coming between white midgets and black midgets.
I don’t want to give away the story, especially because it heads in directions I did not anticipate, something that you do not see in Hollywood movies. “In Bruges” is not, fortunately, a Hollywood film and doesn’t dumb down for its audience. Instead, Martin McDonagh makes you pony up and pay attention to his complexly woven tapestry. He is able to pull you in different and unexpected directions with ease.
The beautiful old city of Bruges is a character unto itself in the film and is shot with loving care by cinematographer Eigil Bryld. The medieval burg will undoubtedly see a tourist boom, at least for a while, and it looks so good I wouldn’t mind being in Bruges myself. I give it an A-.
After a botched job, boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes, "Harry Potter's" Lord Voldemort) orders his two hit men out of the country to await his instructions. Ken (Brendan Gleeson, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") is delighted by their destination and slides right into the role of sightseer, but his young recruit Ray (Colin Farrell, "Cassandra's Dream") pines for London pubs and fast food, frustrated and underwhelmed to find himself "In Bruges."
I simply loved this movie. Writer/director Martin McDonagh (Oscar winner for 2004 live action short "Six Shooter") has created something tonally unique, a film that is hilarious and tragic, irreverent and wistful, peopled with characters learning to love life with death all around them. I never understood the cult of Colin Farrell, but after "Cassandra's Dream" and now this, he has become an actor of true depth and range.
'After I killed them, I dropped the gun in the Thames and washed my hands in a Burger King and waited for instructions,' Ray tells us in voice over, setting a gloomy, serious tone that is promptly depth-charged when we meet him and Ken. Firstly, Ray is horrified to discover he will be sharing a room with Ken in a charming inn run by the very pregnant and lovely Marie (Thekla Reuten, Oscar nominated Foreign Language Films "Everybody's Famous!" and "Twin Sisters") who assures them nothing else is available. Secondly, while Ken is delighted to look at all the 'lovely old buildings,' visit churches and sample the local lager, Ray is convinced Bruges is a 'sh*%hole,' a boring backwater where beer is served in 'fag' glasses. Here is a buddy film with real possibilities, but "In Bruges" is so much more.
After barely bearing a canal boat tour and getting into a serious scuffle with some overweight American tourists he insults during the day , Ray convinces Ken to go out at night even though they are supposed to wait in their room for Harry's possible call. After a good meal and many beers, the duo come upon a brightly lit plaza. 'They're filming midgets!' Ray squeals with childish delight, then sets eyes on Chloë (Clémence Poésy, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and falls instantly besotted. Suddenly Bruges may not be so bad after all.
To say much more about "In Bruges" would spoil the experience, but suffice to say that McDonagh does indeed weave in a dwarf, Jimmy (Jordan Prentice, "Weirdsville," "Harold & Kumar's" Giant Bag of Weed), who films dream sequences at night and indulges in a serious drug habit all the rest of the time. He also becomes the representation of the film's central tragedy, which, when revealed, gives far deeper layers to Ray and his relationship with Ken. McDonagh's brilliant screenplay works on many levels, including a religious one that would cast Harry as God the Father, Ken as Jesus, Marie as the Virgin Mary (her husband is referred to, but never seen) and Ray as the sinner. Bruges is heaven for Harry and Ken, but hell, or is it purgatory, for Ray. Dreams and waking, life and death, the appropriateness of Canadians over Americans, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the fine differences between alcoves and nooks and crannies all work into the mix. McDonagh is able to summon volumes about the human condition with one shot of an exceptionally ugly dog sitting with its master on a public bench.
McDonagh's cast is extraordinary. Farrell is crude, funny, violent, tortured and endearing, a man trying to obliterate a horrible guilt with substance enhanced partying and out of control behavior. Gleeson is the calming factor, a man approaching retirement, contented with the small things, a fatherly influence on Ray. It is a great pleasure not to know who is cast as Harry, who we hear as a nostalgic but blisteringly frank vulgarian on the phone, a man who could turn out to be Ben Kingsley's Don Logan, but instead turns out to be an actor we generally expect as the picture of refinement. Every supporting role has also been cast with great precision from Prentice's matter-of-fact small actor who rants about race wars when strung out, to Jean Reno lookalike Eric Godon's Yuri, the local arms and antiques dealer who obsesses with the local architectural recesses. Jérémie Renier ("L'Enfant," "Atonement") is the cowardly tough guy who runs in with Ray over his girl. Fiennes and Gleeson's "Harry Potter" costar Clémence Poésy is an intriguing presence as the bad girl who could be good for Ray while Thekla Reuten projects a beatific glow as the maternal innkeeper. Mark Donovan ("Shaun of the Dead") and Zeljko Ivanek (TV's "Damages") are the American and Canadian tourists incensed with Ray's behavior.
The production is glorious (Michael Carlin, "The Last King of Scotland") , turning Bruges into the fairy tale it's often compared to (the Flemish city is sure to see an upswell in tourism as a result of this film). Eigil Bryld ("Kinky Boots," "Becoming Jane") often shoots with angles to match his subjects with Bruges's architecture and his night lighting cannily replicates the out of focus blue and gold spots of distributor Focus Features' logo. Original Music by Carter Burwell ("No Country for Old Men") reflects the myriad tonal qualities of the film and its location beautifully.
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