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.