Racist Midgets and Talky Hitmen, or: In Bruges Film Review

In Bruges ***1/2 (out of ****)

"Back off, shorty!" And then Ray karate chops Jimmy, a 'midget actor', in the neck and heads out.

If that image doesn't bring even a little smile to your face, then In Bruges may not be your ideal movie. Just like Ray, played with wonderful humor and pathos by Colin Farrell, bemoaning a temporary vacation in the least of ideal locales (have you ever seen Bruges? It's quite beautiful - but not to Ray), if you don't have the right mindset, you are likely to miss out on the beauty present In Bruges.

Here is a film that knows exactly where it's going, even when the viewer has its doubts. We meet Ray and Ken. Ken is quite smitten with Bruges, Belgium. Ray, on the other hand, is quite bored. We come to realize through often hilarious dialogue that they are 2 hitmen, currently relaxing in Bruges from a recently botched job. They are there on orders from Harry, their boss.

The film opens with exchange after exchange between Ray and Ken. Ken is the thinker, the reader. Ray is the doer, the reactionary. It's a classic buddy film relationship. And the often clever dialogue entertains humorously. The relationship is familiar, but the dialogue is quite refreshing. Credit must be given to writer/director Martin McDonagh for all the witty banter. McDonagh has always had a way with dialogue on the stage (see The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Beauty Queen of Leenane), and he doesn't disappoint here ("You're a fucking inanimate object!!" - one of my favorite lines).

The film at first seems at first to be lost in its own purgatory of waiting. The characters are waiting on a phone call. And we are too. Little plot develops in the first 40 minutes, but relationships are started and are blossomed. Along the way we meet a persistent hotel clerk, a racist midget, a small time crook on a film set. Where are they going? What are they doing in Bruges? What the hell are they doing in this movie? By the end, we may not know all the answers, but we certainly know how they all correlate into one character's fate. The end of this movie is quite surreal, quite dreamlike. And it's quite devastating in its emotional impact.

Colin Farrell as Ray gives perhaps his best performance dedicated to film. When Farrell is allowed to be Irish, he is quite good. He delivers his dialogue with biting relish and silver-tongued enthusiasm. Ray's personal demons haunt him daily, and Farrell is heartbreaking in scenes of guilt trodden meditation. Ray may be bored out of his mind in Bruges, but I was never uninterested with Ray as a character. Brendan Gleeson provides excellent yin to Farrell's yang as Ken. Gleeson has always done admirable work as a character actor, but here is given full weight as a leading man. His attachment to Ray, his detachment to his job, his love of the city Bruges are all in harrowing display. What a sympathetic murderer. Not since Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction has there been such an engaging pair of crooks on celluloid. The histrionics are toned down here in favor of more subtle exchanges and human comedy.

Solid supporting work is provided by Thekla Reuten and Jordan Prentice (said 'racist midget'). Like the characters they portray, the actors are endlessly fascinating. An absurd scene with the dwarf actor, the 2 hitmen, a couple of prostitutes, and copious amounts of cocaine is bizarre in its stark reality and brilliant in its surreal elevation and character development.

The final thrid of the film unfolds quite surrealistically and may come across as a bit contrived for some tastes. I found said contrivances to come out of character observation and detailing. In a lesser film, they would bug me more, but the payoff works well within the context of the tone of the film. I would not have had the movie end any other way than it does.

The film is composed quite beautifully too. There is a fall late in the film. The composition of the sequence in 3 distinct shots is maximized for visceral and technical effect. The use of the sound of coins hitting the street recalling a previous conversation, the camera staying after a character leaves the frame, the impact of the fall - it's all very effective. And of course, for most of us who are unfamiliar with the city of Bruges, if nothing else, the movie provides quite a portrait of "the best-preserved medieval city in Belgium" without looking like a travel companion.

However, with moments of poignancy and pathos, moments of sadness and loneliness, and moments of hilarity that come naturally out of the relationships developed, this human comedy provides much, much more than just a compelling reason to visit the city Bruges. I suppose it's a 'thriller,' but know that the resolution to In Bruges is determined not by plot requirements, but by character ideology and ethical denouements. Yes, even killers have their morals.

Wow, a new post!! or: how I got over being lazy

So, yes. I have been done with A Christmas Carol since the end of December. Here are a few pics from that wonderful show.

The show was quite a success, commercially and artistically. We sold out nearly every night (even during the week of Christmas) and the show was well received by the San Antonio critics. Michael E. Barrett of the San Antonio Express News wrote in his glowing review, "At the risk of gushing, there's nothing to say but that it's almost perfect." We also made the SA Express' end-of-year best-of list for 2008, citing the show once again as "the perfect holiday musical."

Playing Marley was a blast. Byrd Bonner, who contributed his Little House on the Prairie review here, was a delight to play against as Scrooge. What a generous actor.

I'm really happy I took part of this production. I met a lot of wonderful people who I still hang out with every week. It's been an amazing gift to be around people who are just as nutty as me.

And along the way, I started a new show which I am currently playing, Frankenstein's Creature in Love. The show opened at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio 2 weekends ago and so far has been a decent hit. The SA Express thoroughly enjoyed the screwball comedy. The show is a send up of Saved by the Bell, 90210, and bad 90s teen movies (with a bit of Halloween and The Goonies thrown in for mucho fun). With a little bit of effort, you can search my facebook page and find links to pics and the theater around there somewhere.

Alas, a lot has happened since I last posted. We got a new president (a black one at that), Broadway has experienced many closings, the Oscar nominations were announced (the subject of my next post), and a new year has begun.

A lot has happened personally, too. I've been a 'victim of the economic crisis' and am now officially unemployed. Which sucks ass, but I'm still young and hopefully can get back on my feet again. Not the end of the world. But it is one contributing reason to my blogging absence. Blogging has just not been a top priority for me the past month. Which is really a shame, since I enjoy it so much. Had I kept it up, I probably could have dealt with a lot of the crises with much more emotional stability than I did. But everything kinda got turned upside down, and as they say, when it rains, it pours.

But I am here now. Writing again. And if feels great. Thank you to all the bloggers who emailed me and/or left comments here asking about my MIA status, even as recently as last week. If it weren't for you, I probably would have just left this blog alone and had it fade into obscurity. Thank goodness I didn't. And thanks to those bloggers who I read everyday (SarahB, Esther, Steve, Chris, ModFab, Vance, Alicia, TAAL) who keep a consistent number of interesting and well written posts daily. Believe me, I feel I haven't missed anything over the past month due to your exemplary work on your blogs.

So what was it that made me want to pick up and start posting again? The end of the year movie awards season. Look forward to lots of posts over the next week dealing with film. And of course, you can start expecting all the wonderful theatre news and announcements as usual too. Can't wait to start interacting with all of you again.

Special shout out to Broadway & Me, Joie to the Max, Loves Mind Travel, The Resident Artist, and Theatreisms for all the quirky posts in the past month. Yous guys rock.


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