' Cinema Romantico: In Bruges

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Bruges

We've seen hitmen in movies, of course, but we've never seen hitmen in Bruges (Belgium, that is) and we've never seen them in a movie like this. Martin McDonagh (writer and director) has a movie here that is strange and wonderful and unique where each and every piece is crafted to fit its place and where characters all have a purpose but are also allowed to exist on their own terms. You never get the sense these people were invented the moment they turn up in the film, everyone has been around for some time and everyone has their own issues and everyone's fate will converge here in Bruges over a few days time.

After a hit in London gone awry, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent away by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to Bruges ("I didn't even what the f--- Bruges was," says Ray) to lay low for two weeks and wait for a call. Apparently, he wants his hitmen to see the sites. This strikes the older Ken has a good idea and so, guidebook in hand, he hauls the reluctant Ray, whose idea of a great vacation are too many pints at the nearest pub, around to see the midevil architecture. Ray does not seem to be having any fun until he wanders onto an eerie movie set at night, complete with dwarves and a beautiful woman named Katlin (Clemence Posey) with whom, despite his unavoidable boorish behavior, Ray manages to score a date.

While Ray is out on the town Ken receives a phone call back at the hotel from their boss and after some lengthy and hilarious verbal tangoing ("do they still have the swans?") receives some distressing news that perhaps - perhaps not - considering the genre you will see coming.

Not that it matters. McDonagh's film is very involved in its detours, all of which never turn out to be just detours. He cleverly plants seeds, sometimes without you realizing it, and the payoffs are often wonderful and unexpected. A playwrite, McDonagh's ear for dialogue is quite astute. I particularly enjoyed a tense moment suddenly being diffused by Harry wondering "Was he going on about the bloody alcoves to you?" and the moment Ray refers to someone as being "nice". The situation in which he says it, and how genuinely he means it, are both in character and quite funny.

As Ray, Farrell is quite good. He has a range and here he is toally within it, playing an agonized Irishman with a serious demon, his face constantly frozen in an agonized, fearful state. Seriously, the eyes narrowed and darting every which way, it's as if everyone and everything in Bruges cannot be trusted and might be out to get him.

Gleeson is more restrained as the fatherly Ken. It's clear he has in a way taken Ray under his wing, but the film never forces this point, as he berates the younger guy when he disappoints and, at times, shows real affection in wanting to lend a helping hand. As Ray dresses for his date the facial expressions that wander across Ken's face indicate a little pride and a little bit of happiness.

But when Harry shows up in Bruges, pissed off, and because he has principles (don't forget that), things will spiral downward and, inevitably, into gunplay. You might argue movies like this always end in gunplay but the thing is the story that McDonagh has been telling and that these characters have been involved in has been hurtling toward gunplay all along and just because certain movies end this way doesn't mean this particular movie can't. It has to. And McDonagh's way of bringing everyone together on the final stage and how everyone we've seen and all the situations they've all been through lead up to these resolutions is really quite thrilling.

We spend a lot of our lives whining (like Ray) and a lot of times it isn't until that final curtain call that we realize who and what we had and how much we liked all of it and now it's too late to get any of it back.

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