Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Bruges

From the trailer, In Bruges looked like a silly crime caper. Two hit men holed up in a picturesque town in Belgium. One whining and kvetching, the other musing over medieval architecture. But the film is much darker and more twisted that that. After a hit gone horribly awry, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent by boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in a tourist's paradise of canals and churches. Ken takes a liking to the historical and cultural landmarks but Ray is less than impressed saying, "If I'd grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn't, so it doesn't."

When Ray complains about Bruges being "a shithole," it's easy to dismiss him as a brooding, moody spoiled prat--until the details of the botched hit are revealed and it would seem Ray's torment has little to do with being forced to sightsee. Farrell does a terrific job of conveying both the loutish boor and the troubled soul trapped inside. Gleeson likewise delivers a nicely nuanced performance as the older, wiser and more culturally inspired of the pair. The story moves a bit slowly, until Ralph Fiennes' Harry makes his appearance. Harry is a strange combination of killer rage and moral integrity and Fiennes plays him with gusto--with a characterization that was reminiscent of Ben Kingsley's Don Logan in Sexy Beast.

Martin McDonagh's well-crafted script and deft direction keep the story moving--by turns comedic, horrific, violent, touching and tragic--the plot veers and twists up rickety bell tower stairs and in and out of alcoves. This is first rate classic dramatic writing--small wonder since McDonagh comes from a playwright background. But with all the stellar performances, my favorite was Bruges itself. The film is as much a travelogue as it is a morality play. I can't help but agree with Harry--it is a fairytale kind of city.

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