USA / UK 2008 Directed & Written by: Martin McDonagh Produced by: Graham Boradbent, Peter Czernin Cinematography by: Eigil Bryld Editing: Jon Gregory Music: Carter Burwell Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Eric Godon, Elizabeth Berrington, Clemence Poesy, Thekla Reuten, Sachi Kimura, Jordan Prentice
Some movies need a specific time or place – or both – to tell their story most effectively. Imagine some of the more remarkable works without it: DEATH IN VENICE without the morbid fascination for a dying city, THE EVIL DEAD without a forest that’s truly alive, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE without Buenos Aires and its tango music, BANGKOK DANGEROUS (the original) without the city’s bustling atmosphere or TOKYO without, well, Tokyo. And let’s not forget the iconic AMSTERDAMNED. The attachment to a place or a time comes in many forms, but it always makes for a strong connection.
IN BRUGES is a modern-day crime drama: after their last job two hit men are going into temporary exile, leaving the British island for Belgium. Bruges, to be precise. And just as they have no idea how long they’ll have to stay, or what’s going to happen next, or how to deal with guilt (Farrell has accidentally shot a child during the assassination) times stands still in Bruges resembling the vacuum Ray and Ken are in.
The picturesque city is the right backdrop for contemplating and sightseeing, even though Ray (Farrell) hates sightseeing and has a hard time dealing with his fatal mistake. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Bruges pushes him to face the facts and to make sense out of it. So the place forces change upon him, it’s a catalyst as much as it is therapeutic, despite being a medieval place where nothing ever happens.
There’s a moment before the assassination when Ray is in the confessional. He isn’t here to seek absolution, he’s here to kill. Later Bruges then becomes this very large, very old, very intimidating confessional, with nowhere to run, just a lot of water and bridges and buildings and fat tourists. Bruges leaves a mark on everyone, altering their self-perception and state of mind. Ultimately, it brings out the truth, makes everyone confess.
I am not sure how relevant all the odd characters that Farrell meets are. The actress, the hotel owners, the midget. Maybe McDonagh wanted to add a touch of lynchean flavor. I don’t think it does much good, except deviating from the guilt and retribution motif. Essentially, IN BRUGES should have relied on the two main plot threads, Ray’s personal issues and the issues the underworld has with him (and others have with each other). These are more than enough to drive the film. And it should be more conclusive because until the show is over the question remains if IN BRUGES is serious or a satire.
Ray Fiennes gives one of his best performances as on-the-edge mob boss Harry, and Brendan Gleeson is as splendid as always. Farrell looks pale in comparison, trying very hard to prove that he fits the self-chosen art house label. Luckily his acting befits Ray’s character and provides a good contrast to the others in the movie.
IN BRUGES has a lot of flair, it’s funny, at times hilarious, and simply put is a good, original film. Think British gangster movies fuelled by continental breakfast. It’s a nice break from the same old Guy Ritchie recipe, less formulaic and predictable, but also rather loose and missing some rawness here and there. Thinking of it, more probably than not Bruges is to blame.
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