Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Movie Review: In Bruges

In Bruges (2008) 10/10
Two hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) hole up in Bruges, Belgium awaiting instructions from their boss (Ralph Fiennes) after a hit goes wrong. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh.

I suppose you have to categorize movies, and having conceded that, I suppose you have to categorize In Bruges as a black comedy. It is definitely funny, I laughed a lot. Yet, I did not come away from watching In Bruges feeling as though I'd just watched a comedy. It was not goofy, or silly, or campy, or jokey.

In Bruges is funny because the characters are funny. Ray (Colin Farrell, who totally deserved his Golden Globe win), is absolutely childlike. He is alternately sweet and sulky and seems to be about seven years old. You can believe him as a hit man because he has some of the amorality of a small boy. He pouts, complains, whines, and blathers on in a way that puts me entirely into giggles. Meanwhile, Ken (Gleeson) tries to control him, like a kind uncle controlling a naughty but beloved nephew, and that, too, is a riot.

Bruges is a quiet town whose tourist attractions are canals, ancient churches, and a fairy tale beauty. Ken wants to sightsee, Ray is bored. Ken wants to see the Basilica of the Blood of Christ, Ray wants a beer. It's funny, yes, but we get to know Ray and Ken, and they are people, not funny people. Farrell and Gleeson play their characters straight, and so the laughs come naturally.

Ray is not entirely amoral; all of the killers in this film, Ray, Ken, and their boss Harry (Fiennes) have a code of honor to which they adhere. Ray is haunted by what he has done; accidentally killed a child in the course of a hit. Perhaps his childlike quality makes doing wrong more painful; although he doesn't care about the priest he was hired to kill, his sorrow over the child is inconsolable. This is where the acting is so amazing, Ray slips in and out of grief as a fresh memory overcomes him, and this changeable quality is masterfully conveyed.

Bruges is a kind of purgatory for Ray and Ken. Go there, they're told, and wait to see the outcome of what you've done. They visit churches, and then an art museum where they see Bosch's Last Judgement, and Ray wants to know if Ken believes in heaven and hell.

As the two hit men wander through Bruges, they find a film set, where Ray meets a beautiful drug dealer (the magical Clémence Poésy) and an American dwarf (Jordan Prentice) with some strange ideas about race relations. There are also obnoxious tourists, a Dutch prostitute, and an arms dealer who likes alcoves. Finally Harry himself arrives as fate tightens around our main characters. Fiennes is kind of channeling Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast for Harry, but he's not entirely a monster. He, too, has a moral code, infinitely strict, and his main beef with Ray (with the whole world, in fact) is that he is not as strict. He is like a foul-mouthed avenging angel, forcing all around him to line up according to his code. Which is both very funny, and not.

So, yeah, I guess we shove square peg In Bruges into the round hole of black comedy, but to me it is so much more. It has great depth of character and performance, extraordinary beauty, and a lot of warmth. It felt like a drama that made me laugh, but perhaps it was a comedy that moved me. Either way.

(Fooking cross-post)