In Bruges

in-bruges-rev In Bruges  (2008)    Focus/Comedy-Drama-Action    RT: 107 minutes    Rated R (strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use)    Director: Martin McDonagh    Screenplay: Martin McDonagh    Music: Carter Burwell    Cinematography: Eigil Bryld    Release date: February 29, 2008 (US)    Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten, Jeremie Renier, Anna Madeley, Elizabeth Berrington, Eric Godon, Zeljko Ivanek, Stephanie Carey.    Box Office: $7.7 million (US)/$33.3 million (World)

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 Rare is the filmmaker who scores a grand slam his first time at bat. The first name that comes to mind is Quentin Tarantino whose 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs still serves as inspiration for aspiring directors. It’s not a very long list but it most definitely includes Martin McDonagh whose latest work Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens in Philadelphia theaters this weekend. It looks AWESOME; I can’t wait to see it.

in bruges poster I never saw McDonagh’s debut film In Bruges until a few days ago. I don’t know why I put off seeing it for so long (nearly 10 years).  I’m so glad I finally decided to sit down and watch it. It’s GREAT! It stars Colin Farrell (Minority Report) and Brendan Gleeson (The General) as a pair of hitmen who go to Bruges on the orders of their boss after a job goes horribly wrong and results in the death of a young boy. In case you don’t know (which I didn’t), Bruges is a city in Belgium. There are a lot of old buildings and a canal. Ray (Farrell) and his mentor Ken (Gleeson) are sent there to await further instructions from their boss after the botched job. Ken finds it quaint while Ray just wants to return to London. The contempt he feels may have more to do with his profound guilt over killing an innocent child.

 Ken’s happy to sightsee while Ray sets his sights on a local named Chloe (Poesy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), a drug dealer moonlighting as a production assistant on a movie being shot in the city. Their first date doesn’t go so well; it ends with Chloe and her friend Eirik (Renier, La Promesse) trying to rob Ray. She forgot to mention that she also robs tourists. Anyway, Ken receives a phone call from his boss Harry (Fiennes, the Harry Potter movies) ordering him to kill Ray as killing a child is an unforgivable sin. Does he go through with it? Let’s put it this way. Harry ends up having to come to Bruges.

 I rarely find a movie that I think is perfect. I can usually find something to criticize or nitpick about. That’s not the case with In Bruges. It’s positively flawless. McDonagh, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t make a single misstep or hit a single wrong note. Whereas other filmmakers might take the road most travelled with this story of two gangsters in hiding, McDonagh approaches it with a darkly comic sensibility. It’s funny in a very warped kind of way. The people they meet in Bruges are unusual to say the least. Take Jimmy (Prentice, one of the actors who played Howard the Duck in the 1986 movie), the dwarf actor who figures into a dream sequence in the movie being filmed. He likes to party. His drugs of choice are cocaine and horse tranquilizers. When high, he rants about a coming race war between blacks and whites.

 I like that nothing that happens during In Bruges is random. Nothing is extraneous. Take the violent encounter Ray has with a Canadian couple in a restaurant. It comes back at just the right (or wrong) time to bite him in the ass in a most painful way. In Bruges has one of the tightest scripts I’ve ever seen in a movie. It follows a certain logic especially when it comes to the ending. The fate of one major character makes perfect sense. Even gangsters have a moral code from which they never deviate. The ending of In Bruges is determined by character rather than plot requirements. You don’t see that very often. I also like that McDonagh isn’t afraid to show horrific violence and gore. When somebody jumps from a high place, it makes a very bloody mess.

 The acting is top-notch stuff. Farrell gives one of his best performances as a guilt-ridden hitman with suicidal tendencies. It feels like he’s playing a real person rather than a caricature. He seems relaxed and content to go with the flow. His performance never feels forced. Gleeson is terrific as the older, classier hitman whose loyalty to his boss is about to be tested. How can he possibly kill somebody who already wants to kill himself? He makes a very sympathetic bad guy. If you saw him in 1998’s The General, you know he excels at creating such characters. Fiennes is a riot as Harry, a hot-head who loves the f-word. He uses it at least once in every sentence. One of the movie’s funniest dialogue exchanges involves Harry and his wife Natalie (Berrington) after he smashes their phone in a fit of rage:

Natalie: “It’s an inanimate f---ing object!”

Harry” “You’re an inanimate f---ing object!”

The humor in In Bruges is funny precisely because it rises out of character rather than situation. Due to McDonagh’s close observation of his characters, we get to know them and how they think. He also does an interesting thing with the titular city. He shows it to us without turning the move into a dull travelogue (like the wretched Trip movies). He uses it as a means of character development. Look at the scene where Ken and Ray visit a belfry. Ken wants to go to the top to see the view; Ray doesn’t see the point since he can see the city just fine from ground-level. This tells us a great deal about both men.

 I really regret not watching In Bruges sooner. It really is a cool movie. It’s both strange and brilliant. It’s riotously funny and crazy violent in the second half. It’s also has moments of sadness and great poignancy. The characters, even the bad guys, are likable. It’s beautifully shot. McDonagh makes great use of the city’s locations especially the canal. It’s clever, witty and intelligent. In short, In Bruges is bloody freaking brilliant! I’ve already added it to my list of all-time favorite films. I can’t wait to see his new movie this weekend. Stay posted for my review.

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