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In Bruges A Must-See Attraction


In Bruges (Focus, 2008)
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh

As the final credits for In Bruges rolled, I sat wondering one thing; how did this film ever get made? I remember seeing the previews to the film this past spring right before it was dumped for a couple of weeks and then never heard from again until the recent release on DVD. I remember thinking it just looked like another comedy about some goofy criminals, and I could wait to see it later if ever at all.

The opening sequences of the film left me feeling no different. Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are hit men who after their most recent job have been sent to Bruges, a small town in Belgium, to wait and hear from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Ken is more than happy to waltz around and look at the sights; Ray is bored to tears the instant he gets off the train and only finds any kind of excitement when he stumbles upon a film being shot in the town.

The scene he witnesses is a dream sequence being filmed with a dwarf (Jordan Prentice); the scene is an homage to Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Ray also notices a cute drug dealer named Chloe (Clemence Poesy) selling horse tranquilizers to Prentice, and is immediately smitten.

From this sequence on the film goes in directions I would have never have guessed in a million years. What is set up as a fairly standard buddy comedy becomes something much more interesting while still sticking to its comedic roots for awhile. Then when you think you have everything figured out, In Bruges goes to the dark side for the final third, and amazingly enough, all of these changes in tone meld together into something quite beautiful. The only thing you can really blame the film for is only being a near masterpiece.

The odd structures and avenues that this film chooses to explore is why I wondered how the film ever even got the green light. When I see a setup for a fairly standard genre film, and what I get is a daring film that takes so many chances from beginning to end, I can’t help but be taken back a bit. It’s not an experience I get to write about much anymore. At some point, even as a non-professional critic, you feel like you’ve seen everything you could possibly have seen; written about every type of film you could possibly write about.

To explain any more of the story would be to give too much away, so I will not. I will let those that are curious witness this crazy concoction yourself. The term “Character Piece” gets thrown out a lot as more of a negative when it comes to film criticism. Most of the time, it is a reviewer’s way of saying that thematically the film really doesn’t work, but there is some great acting and well-written characters to pass the time. However, while for most films of this type this is a reasonable opinion, I can think of no other way to describe In Bruges than as a character piece, but it’s the unusual type that actually works.

This is Martin McDonagh’s first feature length film as a director; he has made one short film, 2004’s Six Shooter. McDonagh has spent the last fifteen years earning the pedigree as one of England’s most brilliant playwrights. Watching In Bruges, especially in its playful three-act structure, it’s easy to realize that this could only come from a playwright. However, it’s very hard to believe that something this confident and engaging could be made by a first-time filmmaker.

McDonagh achieves that very rare almost perfect first film. I kept having flashes of David Mamet’s (another playwright turned filmmaker) brilliant House of Games, and even Quentin Tarantino’s bloodthirsty Reservoir Dogs. I’m not comparing style, because like those brilliant debuts, McDonagh has his own flair that I can’t wait to see be put to use down the road in whatever else he decides to enlighten us with.

The actors, thankfully, are more than up to the task to stand by McDonagh’s creative side. Farrell has never been better, especially in the comedic moments; I think comedy might be his true calling. Gleeson and Fiennes are as brilliant as ever, and maybe even a little better than they usually are.

I said it was a near masterpiece earlier, and maybe I’m just being a little too hard on the film. However, Ray is presented as such an obvious bigot that at times I cringed at some of his dialogue. No stone is left unturned; he degrades fat people, midgets, people of color, Canadians, and in one line of dialogue that actually got a grin out of me he mentions a fat-black-retarded lady who may or may not know karate. While there have been plenty of interesting racist characters in the history of cinema, at the times that these words are said the film has a certain tone to it that doesn’t quite back up the confrontational aspects presented. It was a little uncomforting, but such a small problem in the overall scheme I paid it very little mind.

I do not think McDonagh is putting himself out there as a racist, but more as someone who is possibly confused by those who do not share the same characteristics as himself. Ray’s frustrations with his boredom of the town match McDonagh’s own as he has stated in interviews and led to his inspiration to write the film. I will say that Ray’s bigotry is an interesting parallel to his own self-hatred and worries at what other people think of him.

McDonagh is definitely someone to keep an eye on, and I hope he is eventually given a little more possibilities for the rest of the country to see his films in the theater. Either way, In Bruges is on DVD now, and should not be missed. It’s easily one of the best films so far in 2008.


Sam Loomis

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