In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

I had trouble understanding what Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were saying.  There, that’s the big complaint I have about “In Bruges.”  That’s the best I could muster concerning what’s wrong with this movie.  And really, that’s no fault of the movie, and certainly no fault of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  I mean shit, they’re Irish, speaking with their natural Irish accents, so if anything that makes for better performances than if they had faked it for the sake of a stupid American like myself.  So right there, a weakness becomes a strength, and try as I might to find fault with what could be passed off as a run-of-the-mill dark comedy with guns, any of those faults became strengths too.  This ain’t no run-of-the-mill dark comedy with guns in the vain of a Guy Ritchie style orgy (thank God for that).  This is an incredibly smart, incredibly fun dark comedy and pseudo-crime film that I couldn’t get enough of.

The premise is about as simple as a premise can get.  Two hit men, the hotshot rookie Ray (Farrell) and the soft-spoken veteran Ken (Gleeson) are sent by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes, who we don’t even see until the second half) to hide out in Bruges when a job goes wrong.  Ken is enamored with the quaint medieval city, while Ray wants out as soon as they get there.  Yep, that’s it.  Too simple, not exciting enough?  Hell no.  A premise as simple as this allows for more concentration on Ray and Ken: their relationship with each other, their likes and dislikes, their personalities, instead of this plot twist or that.  The movie’s less than two hours, and we’re thrust right into to story as it begins with Ray and Ken arriving in Bruges, but we feel like we’ve known these two guys their entire lives.  Comedy is the toughest genre to make a successful film out of, let alone one that feels real, but first-time writer/director Martin McDonagh succeeds.  Farrell and Gleeson have wonderful chemistry, and their dialogue is snappy, realistic, and incredibly witty (at least I’m pretty sure it was, what with my trouble getting past the accents 😛 ).  We have so little time to get to know these guys, but through performance and dialogue, they’re more fleshed out than most other protagonists in just about any other dark comedy, from Ken’s ‘Who’s-on-first’-esque telephone conversation with the intimidating Harry and genuine adoration for Bruges’ buildings and artwork to Ray consistently calling the dwarf actor in town a midget, or succumbing to the guilt brought on by his tragic mistake during his last job, or having no reservations knocking the piss out of an obnoxious Canadian couple while on a date – naturally, his date doesn’t mind.  Ray and Ken couldn’t be more different – they’re apples and oranges – which is why they’re made for each other and have as dynamic a relationship as they do.  They’re two of the most sympathetic hit men you’ll come across.  These are two of the best performances of the year.

Man, what a screenplay.  It tiptoes the fine, fine, fine line between comedic realism and the utterly bizarre.  But either way, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly chuckle-worthy, exciting, disturbing, and really fucking fun.  The perfect dark comedy.  And even better, it’s a dark comedy that’s smart, and logical.  The second half gets really hectic and action-packed, with what seems like a lot of coincidences that need to happen here, here, and here for everything to go down the way it does.  Some would call that simplistic, a writer taking the easy way out, but I think it’s genius and perfectly within the realm of this movie’s reality the way things turn out the way they do. Ray, Ken, the maniacal but honor-bound Harry, Ray’s love interest Chloe, the racist, pretentious dwarf wearing the Harry Potter costume, the half-blind stickup man, the pregnant innkeeper, the snooty Canadians, and the bell tower where one of them meet a tragic, glorious destiny – the confluence of all these distinctive characters, all exactly where they need to be for the chaotic finale, might be a little too convenient, yes, but it’s also the textbook on economical, ingenious storytelling – the perfect bringing together of so many random people and places into a unified, logical (but still frantic) whole.  You’d think that a racist midget (excuse me, dwarf) who takes horse tranquilizers and predicts an imminent war between the whites and blacks, a stickup man blinded in one eye by a blank-firing gun, and Ray and Harry arguing over how their deadly chase will go down before it even begins, would all be beyond bizarre – but it’s not.  We see some crazy things in this movie, but in a place as ethereal as Bruges at night, they all make perfect sense, and we’d expect to see them any day of the week.

Is the run ‘n gun climax too generic?  The ending too predictable?  Well, the shootouts, the chases, are more generic than what came before, but still exciting as hell.  You could predict the ending, but it’s still the most appropriate, surreal ending possible (Harry does stick with his principles, after all – as does Ken, and even Ray.  Honor among murderers).  Frankly I loved the ending in all its dreamlike glory – it’s the culmination of Bruges itself giving off more and more life as the story goes along.  Bruges becomes a character in and of itself (thanks to some great cinematography), starting off as just the collection of boring old buildings Ray sees it as, but becoming more and more of an embodiment of a state of mind, kind of like Venice in “Don’t Look Now” (makes sense, then, that the movie the dwarf is shooting is a Eurotrash homage to Nicolas Roeg’s classic).  But, the focus on Bruges, whether just to show the buildings or to make it an otherworldly purgatory, is never over-emphasized.  I’m convinced that Bruges is an incredibly beautiful city, and I’d really like to visit it after watching this movie, but the emphasis isn’t really on the place, but rather, on the great half bizarre, half logical characters and razor-sharp dialogue and wonderful moments of coincidence and fate.  You know, I don’t know why I’ve spent all this time defending “In Bruges” from supposed weaknesses like ‘too predictable ending’ or ‘not enough plot’ or ‘too much deus ex machina coincidences’ or ‘bizarre characters’ or ‘I can’t understand what the funny-sounding Irishmen are saying,’ because the movie’s merits as pitch black comedy, and one of the most straight-up, balls to the wall entertaining movies I’ve seen in quite some time, speak for themselves.  Do yourself a favor and visit Bruges with Ray and Ken.


3 comments so far

  1. ShotgunAndy on

    “Do yourself a favor and visit Bruges with Ray and Ken.”

    I already have. It was a nice trip. I pretty much agree exactly with your review.

  2. kush on

    “I had trouble understanding what Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were saying.”

    You’d give at least 0.5 more if you had understood everything 🙂

  3. Simon M. on

    yeah, probably. As it is, it’s already my # 2 or # 3 film of 2008 (and on my list of 100 favorite movies), and I think that a rewatch will only make me love it even MORE.

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