Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In Bruges

Sometimes a movie comes along and reminds you of a certain actor or director’s talent that you had forgotten about, In Bruges is that movie for Colin Farrell. It’s the debut film from famed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. He has been referred to as the Irish David Mamet, with good reason, as In Bruges is an incredibly profane, dialog driven movie whose Irish-ness comes to the forefront in the black comedy contained throughout its 107 minutes. The dialog isn’t as stylized or cadenced as Mamet’s is, but it is equally intriguing and has a heart that Mamet has never shown.

“After I killed ‘em, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through – ‘Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges.’ I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was………. It's in Belgium.”-The opening narration, spoken by Ray (Colin Farrell).

Ray and Ken (Brendon Gleeson) are two Irish hit men who arrive from London into Bruges of two completely different mindsets. Ken thinks they should lay low and sight-see in the beautiful city “Bruges is the most well preserved medieval town in all of Belgium, apparently” he says. Ray, meanwhile, wants only to go back to London, or his beloved Dublin, and get back to his life. They’re sent to Bruges by their boss Harry (a hilariously over-the-top Ralph Fiennes) after Ray’s first job goes wrong. While walking around the city at night Ray and Ken stumble upon a film set and eventually get acquainted with dwarf actor Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) who’s starring in the movie’s dream sequence. Ray also becomes infatuated with a girl he sees on set (the radiantly seductive Clemence Poesy) named Chloe. He asks her out, and she reluctantly agrees, leading to one of the best “date” scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.

McDonagh pokes a bit of fun at the Americans in the movie, to great effect (if we can’t laugh at ourselves, what can we laugh at?). Jimmy the dwarf keeps asking people to not hold the fact that he’s American against him. After Ken goes up to the top of the city’s famous bell tower to see the view without Ray (Ray saying “The view of down here? I can see that from down here”), an obese American family approaches and informs Ray that they’re on their way up, but are outraged when Ray tells them that they won’t make it up the stairs because “You’re a bunch of fuckin’ elephants”. The joke isn’t that the American’s are overweight, but that they’re offended someone pointed it out. When, as he passes them on his way back, Ken also expresses his concern that the family won’t make it up the stairs because the stairs are quite narrow, he’s not making fun, he’s just trying to be a friendly person. The Americans don’t quite take it that way, but if you pay attention later in the movie, you find out that Ray just might have been correct.

McDonagh’s background as a playwright comes through in that In Bruges has a fairly small cast of characters, but it doesn’t feel constrained by that, it simply feels like an extension of the fact that these characters live in a fairly insular world. Actually In Bruges just plain doesn’t feel like a first movie. McDonagh has clear command of the story, a nice visual sense, and is able to effortlessly switch from comedy to drama, often within the same scene. And it’s in those scenes that Colin Farrell truly shines.

He often gets dismissed due to his good looks, but Farrell can be very good when given the right role. I first noticed him as the antagonist in Spielberg’s Minority Report, but unfortunately since then he seems to have developed a trend where he works with great directors on their lesser projects. In 2004 he starred in the disaster of Oliver Stone’s Alexander, in 2005 followed with Terrence Malick’s The New World, and then in 2006 with Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust. Combined, those guys have 18 Oscar nominations, and 4 wins. They weren't all flops by any means, The New World was a critical success, but essentially it was a case of "right filmmakers to be involved with, wrong films to be in" (regardless of the fact that he himself was really only negatively singled out for Alexander). His career wasn’t a complete disaster during that time period though; he had his nice turn in Phone Booth, as well as his widely praised performance as the villain Bullseye in the much maligned Daredevil, was again critically praised for his performance in the little seen A Home at the End of the World, and had a terrific guest spot on my favorite show, Scrubs. None of those performances, however, are as good as he is here as Ray. He pulls off the dramatic and emotional scenes without fault, and yet he could have me cracking up with a simple “Hmm”. You can also hear the childlike glee in his voice when the guys first come across the film set and he blurts out “They’re filmin’ midgets!!” as he rushes over.

The rest of the cast are all up to par, with Brendon Gleeson in particular standing out during an incredibly acted 6 ½ minute long shot in the hotel room where we first see him talk to Ralph Fiennes on the phone. That scene is probably the best encapsulation of the movie. McDonagh shows his mastery of character and story with the atmosphere of the conversation (and therefore, the movie) shifting with a simple question. Gleeson goes through a wide range of emotions in that scene, and just watching his face can really hit you emotionally. In Bruges is a near masterpiece that gets better with every viewing, surely one of the best movies of the year, and hopefully the start of a long film career for Martin McDonagh.

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