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In Bruges

Action & Adventure and Comedy movie directed by Martin McDonagh

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A film that embraces the three B's; brutal, bold, and brilliant.

  • Jun 14, 2012
**** out of ****

Alfred Hitchcock once deemed it unwise to kill either a child or a dog in a movie. Well, this logic seems to have been abandoned, until now. Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges" has characters that seem to live by the words of the big man himself; starting with Ray (Collin Farrell), a hitman crippled by the guilt of having just recently killed a little boy in an accident. He was assigned to kill a priest, and so he did, but a few of the bullets evaded the target and hit the next person in their path. Ray and his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are told by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in Bruges after the job-gone-wrong, so that things are given a little bit of time to simply simmer down a bit. The film does not assume that the American audience (or any other audience, for the matter) has ever been or has even heard of Bruges, so what we get is a warm and potent introduction. The film was inspired by McDonagh's own visit to the city, which is located somewhere in Belgium, and in a sense Ray represents his experience and his stay. We know that Ray doesn't want to be there, and that he probably doesn't want to be alive either. I doubt that last part applied to McDonagh, but I get where he's coming from with this point in particular; too much beauty can be overwhelming and therefore insanely depressing.

Ken and Ray enjoy the drinks, the sights, and the midgets filming movies on-location in the city. Ray's methods are a little unorthodox (he picks a fight with an overweight tourist on the first day there) although Ken just wants to have a good time. They are both awaiting a call from the boss, although when it arrives, they're not in their room at the local inn. But when Harry calls back, Ken is there and Ray is not (he's out on a date with a pretty girl named Chloe, played by Clemence Poesy). This proves to be most convenient; as the next assignment is for Ken to kill Ray. The problem is, he's already intent on killing himself. Once Ken realizes this, he cannot kill his partner and friend. He recognizes that guilt is the most destructive of all the emotions, and that Ray still has the potential to "be" something in life, that is, if he decides to keep on living his to the fullest. So Ken lets him live. He could keep this from Harry, but instead he decides to tell him over the phone about his choice. This angers Harry. And so he gets to Bruges as soon as he can, so that he can settle things once and for all.

This is a fascinating film about many things; love, redemption, life itself, and the very lifestyle of a hitman. Yes, the point at the center of "In Bruges" is not entirely original - and that is that the life of a hitman is not one that should ever, ever be pursued, for it is a dangerous and treacherous one - but McDonagh is experimental and daring enough to push the boundaries of what can usually be done within this genre, if the film even has a single one. It is existential and surreal; there's an otherworldly quality to it that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it has something to do with the city and the sights to be found in it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Eigil Bryld's cinematography is gorgeous, and that McDonagh understands the importance of detail in every last shot. I don't really know. But what I do know is that "In Bruges" isn't your average tragicomedy. It's something much different and much less, should I say, singular.

I've always respected Colin Farrell as one of the more talented Scottish actors, but Ray might just be his best character yet. Although he and Gleeson have a chemistry that serves as at least a half of the movie's soul and appeal; Farrell is stand-alone solid in the role. Ray is a man of depth and intense regret. His emotions cannot be understood, although they are easily manipulated and shattered. Farrell refuses to play the character straight. One moment, he's somewhat of a wise-cracking comedian; and at another, he's in tears, and I nearly am as well (man-tears are earned though, so kudos to McDonagh for that one). Gleeson as Ken, well, he's just a good friend. There is a human side to all the characters, and they all share but one thing in common: neither one of them believes that killing a child is a humane act, accidental or not. Which brings us to Fiennes as Harry. I don't think I've seen the actor - famous for playing Voldemort in the later "Harry Potter" films - in such a role specifically suited for him. Harry is truly intimidating and predictable, pausing from time-to-time for some comic relief (who can forget the "inanimate fucking object" scene?), which as we know, a lot of movie villains need. "In Bruges" transcends the line that lies between sadness and silliness, with comedy that is both gut-bustingly funny and surprisingly human.

You get many movies in one. The film can be seen as homage to past features such as "The Dumb Waiter". At the same time, it can be viewed as a cross-breed of solid gold gangster violence and stark melodrama. There's also an emphasis on art, which McDonagh must be very close to for all the effort he puts in emphasizing this aspect. When in Bruges, visit art exhibits and historical buildings; so goes a philosophy that probably doesn't exist yet. And in observing the artistic aspects of the city, McDonagh makes art of his own.

I said the film was surreal, and I meant it; there are images and prolonged situations that stick with the viewer for their originality and authenticity. For example, certain plot elements involve a midget on cocaine speaking of a racial war between the whites and the blacks (which soon develops into a rather funny conversation), an angry former boyfriend of Chloe's who gets his left eye indirectly shot out by a gun filled with blanks (the doctors say he'll never see out of it again), and a concluding sequence that seems to be about, among other things, purgatory; although it's also somewhat of a nod to "The Wicker Man", with the creepy animal costumes, upsetting atmosphere and all that jazz. All this is so nauseatingly awesome that the experience of "In Bruges" cannot be absorbed all in one viewing. But I'll be damned if it isn't good enough to watch more than just once more again. In fact, I consider it to be one of the finest films of the 2000's. The existential and moral themes of the story get under your skin and stay there. But you're still going to enjoy the pleasant portion of your stay in Bruges nevertheless, regardless of whether the joy is long-lasting or not. And I assure you; it really is not.

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More In Bruges reviews
review by . November 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
After bungling their latest job, two London-based hitmen are sent to the much quieter city of Bruges, Belgium to await instruction. Ray is a cocky young gun, who can't relax and can't stand Bruges and can't wait to get away. Ken is older and wiser, and wishes he could stay longer to take in the atmosphere and history of this medieval city. Of course, initial impressions of this odd couple turn out to be incomplete, and things aren't going to work out quite like anyone wants, and the quaint city …
review by . September 21, 2009
... but I laughed out loud at the conscience-stricken killer's suggestion that it was a circle closer to Hell than Bruges. When I laugh out loud at a film I'm watching by myself -- and I did laugh out loud more than once -- that film automatically gets my five-star rating.    I'm not gonna waste a lot of college-seminar training on an exegesis of this flick. I take it to be a spoof of the genre, a totally tongue-in-cheek satire of fashionable amorality. Some reviewers have compared …
review by . August 26, 2008
Two hit men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are on a sort of makeshift holiday in Bruges, Belgium after a hit gone wrong. While awaiting word from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Ken is interested in sightseeing and the history of the place, while Ray couldn't be more unimpressed and can't wait to escape.    After hearing so many wonderful things about this film I was absolutely prepared to be let down. Movies rarely live up to the hype for me, but I am happy …
review by . June 26, 2008
Martin McDonagh makes an impressive writing and directing debut with the very fresh and entertaining and surprisingly well rounded film IN BRUGES. Though the basic storyline is rather simple, McDonagh knows how to keep it turning and twisting with generous amounts of humor as well as probing character development. He has assembled a cast of very fine actors, turned the cinematography of the gorgeous Belgian city of Bruges over to the capable creative hands of Eigil Bryld, and finished his project …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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The considerable pleasures ofIn Brugesbegin with its title, which suggests a glumly self-important art film but actually fits a rattling-good tale of two Irish gangsters "keepin' a low profile" after a murder gone messily wrong. Bruges, the best-preserved medieval town in Belgium, is where the bearlike veteran Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and newbie triggerman Ray (Colin Farrell) have been ordered by their London boss to hole up for two weeks. As the sly narrative unfolds like a paper flower in water, "in Bruges" also becomes a state of mind, a suspended moment amid centuries-old towers and bridges and canals when even thuggish lives might experience a change in direction. And throughout, the viewer has ample opportunity to consider whose pronunciation of "Bruges" is more endearing, Gleeson's or Farrell's. The movie marks the feature writing-directing debut of playwright Martin McDonagh, whose droll meditation on sudden mortality,Six Shooter, copped the 2005 Oscar for best live-action short. Although McDonagh clearly relishes the musicality of his boyos' brogue and has written them plenty of entertaining dialogue,In Brugesis no stageplay disguised as a film. The script is deceptively casual, allowing for digressions on the newly united and briskly thriving Europe, and annexing passers-by as characters who have a way of circling back into the story with unanticipatable consequences. That includes a film crew--shooting a movie featuring, to Ray's fascination, "a midget" (Jordan ...
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Director: Martin McDonagh
Genre: Action, Comedy, Adventure
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2008
Runtime: 107 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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