Posted by: viewfromacouch | May 29, 2010

#12: IN BRUGES. It’s like a fuckin’ fairytale or something.

12) In Bruges (2008)
Written & Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes & Clémence Poésy

After I killed ’em, I dropped the gun in the Thames, wiped the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and went home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter, the instructions came through. “Get the fuck outta London you’s dumb fucks. Get to Bruges.” I didn’t even know where Bruges fuckin’ was. … It’s in Belgium.

Before I saw this movie, all I’d heard about it was that it was a hilariously crude comedy that I absolutely could not miss. And don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways, it is just that. Martin McDonagh has made an unabashedly offensive comedy with some of the most politically incorrect dialogue the movies have to offer. But it’s more than that. A lot more. There is a very serious side to the film that fails to get mentioned whenever this movie is brought up. And more than the comedy, it’s that dark underbelly that keeps me coming back to this film again and again.

After a job gone horribly awry, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), a pair of hired guns, are told to lay low in Bruges until trouble blows over. In case you don’t know (I didn’t), Bruges is a medieval village in Belgium that prides itself on being one of the most well-preserved towns in all of Europe. Ken quite likes the place, and relishes the opportunity to do some sight-seeing. Ray, on the other hand, is completely miserable. But he has his own reasons for that.

I won’t spoil what’s weighing on Ray’s conscience, as I wouldn’t want to know it if I hadn’t yet seen the film. It’s revealed quite early in the movie (within 25mins), but it changes the perception of his character entirely. This is a troubled young man who has done a terrible thing — terrible even by hitman standards. It was unintentional, but that doesn’t relieve him of his guilt. Farrell is very funny in this movie, but he plays Ray with a subdued anguish that makes his pain palpable. It’s a testament to the strength of his performance that we come to care for this man so much, when in many ways, he is a completely unlikeable character who has done something unforgivable.

Ray and Ken await word from their boss, Harry Waters (Fiennes), on what their next move should be. One night, while out and about instead of waiting for Harry’s call, Ray stumbles onto a movie set where he meets a beautiful woman working on the crew (Poésy). Somehow, through a hilariously awkward Meet Cute, she takes a shine to him. They’re making a bullshit art film starring a dwarf actor who Ray develops an unhealthy obsession with. And that’s the set-up for one the better crime stories of the decade.

Chloe: This movie, I think it’s going to be a very good one. There’s never been a classic movie made in Bruges until now.
Ray: Of course there hasn’t, it’s a shit-hole.
Chloe: Bruges is my hometown, Ray.
Ray: Well…it’s still a shit-hole.
Chloe: It’s not a shit-hole!
Ray: What? Even midgets have to take drugs to stick it.

McDonagh has in many ways out-Tarantino’d Quentin himself, making a movie full of humour found in the honest interactions of professional killers, while stripping away the ego of QT’s masturbatory cultural references. There is but one film reference in the entire movie, and it’s quite clever and hidden away in the background. During a long sustained take where Ken talks to Harry on the telephone, the TV is playing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil — one of the most famous “long takes” in film history. That’s it. No pointless dialogue discussing the importance of Touch of Evil in film history, not even an acknowledgement that it’s on TV. If you know what it is, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t, and it’s not important anyway. Perfect.

Pulp Fiction has inspired a slew of imitators since its release (all of Guy Ritchie’s films, Boondock Saints, Suicide Kings, Go and many more), but only In Bruges seems to really capture the heart of that movie and not just its superficial exterior. Bruges has a very unique brand of dialogue (“Alcoves…”), but it’s more than that. Like Pulp Fiction, this is a story of redemption, with plenty of religious subtext. Many of the characters crack wise about the fairytale nature of Bruges itself, but the movie really is a fairytale. Bruges doubles as purgatory, and our scoundrel heroes have to win their way into Heaven. Harry Waters is the devil personified, and the movie is not exactly subtle in painting him as such. Chloe is the story’s princess, her ex-lover its vengeful cyclops. The midget is a dwarf. I’m only half kidding.

The movie takes place during Christmas time, and reflects the lights of the season onto the old buildings, adding to the fairytale atmosphere. The score does well to set the mood as well — a lilting lullaby with hints of melancholy. It’s a distinctive theme, suitable for both the story and its medieval setting. Again like Tarantino, McDonagh makes masterful use of music. Here’s a clip highlighting exactly what I’ve been talking about in these past two paragraphs. If this isn’t climbing up to heaven, I’m not sure what is. (WARNING: CLIP CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS)

Beautiful.

The acting is strong across the board, as the three leads all turn in terrific work. I already spoke at length about Farrell’s performance, but I can not say enough good things about him. Having always been a fan of his as a character actor in smaller roles (like Minority Report and *gulp* Daredevil), I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t cut out to be a leading man — especially as he struggled through fare like Alexander and Miami Vice. Those movies weren’t exactly bastions of quality (Alexander was particularly horrible), but his performances in them weren’t good, either. Here he finally lands a leading role with some depth to it and knocks it out of the park. Gleeson is quite good as well, and their chemistry together is excellent.

Fiennes has always been a versatile actor, but I do enjoy him more in villainous roles. Harry Waters is his “Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast“, a foul-mouthed bastard of a character to cut loose with. Harry doesn’t actually enter the picture until the 65 minute mark, but Fiennes makes the most of his limited screen-time. He’s menacing and scary, but also darkly funny. Harry is an enormous prick, but in a very casual, matter-of-fact kind of way. It’s a memorable performance.

Harry: I suppose you’ve got a gun up there.
Ray: Yeah.
Harry: Well what we gonna do? We can’t stand here all night.
Marie: Why don’t you both put your guns down and go home?
Harry: Don’t be stupid. This is the shootout.

If the film has had any cultural impact since its release, it’s as a tourism video for the town of Bruges. The setting is a scene-stealer. As I said earlier, I’d never even heard of the place before this. I now know three people who’ve been there, all of whom went because of this movie. They went so they could say they were “in Bruges,” and I one day hope to say the same.

The movie just does everything right, balancing tragedy and hilarity like only the best can. It’s one of those rare films that seems to get better and better each time I see it again.

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Responses

  1. Looks like a good movie.
    Speaking of, is anyone going to see this new movie “Get Him to the Greek”?
    From the preview, it looks hilarious!

  2. @sachi, where did this come from? lol, I saw the redband trailer and it got me hooked, I wanna see this film on friday

  3. Random, the both of ya’s. But yes, I’m looking forward to that one. I really enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Russell Brand is one of the best parts of it. I’ll be seeing it sometime in the next week or so, and will have a review on the blog after I do.


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