24 June 2008

Back to Bruges

Yesterday I was going to write about my second viewing of In Bruges but got sidetracked by a thread on IMDb's message board for the film (see previous entry). I am not similarly distracted now....

In Bruges works on so many levels its difficult to know where to start. First of all, there's the lovely city itself. Good directors know how to use location not as a backdrop but as an integral part of the story. (See John Ford's use of Monument Valley in his Westerns, see the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, see Woody Allen's Manhattan to name but a few examples.) Director Martin McDonagh said that Bruges was this film's fourth main character along with Ralph Fiennes, Brendand Gleeson and Colin Farrell. (Speaking of Farrell, this film along with Cassandra's Dream, should lay to rest in any question about whether the man can act – he most certainly can.)

The idea for In Bruges was born when McDonagh visited the city and found that after about seven hours, an internal debate began. On the one hand, he was bored already, on the other hand, he was enjoying the city's beauty and myriad cultural offerings. Thus why not have two characters somehow stuck in that very city engage in the same debate? When the two are British hit men played by Gleeson and Farrell you've got the makings of a hit -- pun intended.

In Bruges is very funny. It has been labeled as delightfully un-PC. Indeed, it is –and not in a way that is offensive– but in a way that is revealing about the way people think and talk and struggle with conventional mores.

Our two hit men have been sent to Bruges by their boss (Fiennes) after their latest hit to await his phone call and further instructions. The two consider the whole thing "overly elaborate" –  they ain't seen nothin' yet.

Enter a lovely local woman who deals drugs and occasionally robs tourist. Yes, there is a lot going on in this movie and it turns out that adding a dwarf – especially one who likes hookers and drugs (including horse tranquilizers) –into the mix is a master stroke. In Bruges never slips into farce (I hesitate to say this but here goes: most American directors would not only have let it slip into farce but pushed there with both hands). There is a believability – and sometimes an inevitability – to what goes on. It's like the difference between weird and whacky. Thankfully, weird happens here. (Whacky should be left to bad TV sit coms.)

The mismatched duo thrown together is a Hollywood cliche, but Gleeson and Farrell pull it off with much credit to McDonagh's script. The counterpart is provided by Fiennes who is a positive revelation as a criminal boss. Fiennes plays one bad motherf*cker (shut my mouth) but he is no stick figure there is nuance to him and all the film’s charcters. This is a man with a family, a code of conduct and a sense of decency to go along with his desire to have people offed.  

At the core of In Bruges are the issues of accepting responsibility and dealing with the consequences of one's actions. Along with the laughs there are moments of genuine heartbreak. Characters are appropriately introspective and contemplative; the movie asks the audience to be the same.

There is romance, there is action and violence (never gratuitous), and perfectly satisfying resolutions. As George Gershwin once wondered, "Who could ask for anything more?"

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