Mark Reviews Movies

IN BRUGES

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 2/8/08


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Sisyphus pushes a boulder up a hill, forced to watch it roll back down once his task is seemingly complete. Tantalus walks up to a pool of water and continuously watches it recede as he bends down to drink. Tityos gets to have his liver eaten by vultures. Meanwhile, Ray (Colin Farrell), the uncultured, guilt-ridden hitman antihero of In Bruges, wanders the most well-preserved medieval city in Belgium, bored out of his mind, wanting redemption but, found still wanting, needing to die. The plot of In Bruges is Ray's antagonist, dangling chance and coincidence in front of and behind him until everything comes together in a climax that acts like one in a standard crime thriller but means a bit more.

The film is about irredeemable people searching for redemption, and while that alone is a Sisyphean task, writer/director Martin McDonagh's feature film debut is also an absorbing exploration of honor amongst criminals, all of whom have developed a set of principles they believe makes up for the fact that they kill people every now and again. The tone is goofy (perfect for the absurdity of the thematic problem) but subdued (just to keep it in line), and it helps make what is certainly not an original concept seem that way.

Ray opens his story bluntly: After he killed a man, he tells us in the narration, he dropped the gun in the Themes. His boss told him to hide out in Bruges, a place he had never heard of before, let alone knew where it was. "It's in Belgium," he matter-of-factly intones. Ray is in Bruges with his partner-in-crime Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who loves the city and its architecture. Ray hates it, and he's not the kind of man to censor his thoughts before saying them out loud. Ken wants to go sightseeing; Ray wants to sit in the pub in drink away his troubles.

His troubles run deep. He's hiding away in Bruges to keep the heat down after killing a priest, an act that sounds horrible in its own right but is much worse considering the priest was Ray's intended target and an innocent fell victim to one of his stray bullets. While putting up with Ken's sightseeing, Ray happens upon a location shoot for a Belgian film, where he's drawn at first to a dwarf named Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) and then with the beautiful Chloë (Clémence Poésy). Ray and Chloë more or less hit it off, and Ray promises to tell her what he does for a living at dinner the next night.

Just when things start to look up for Ray, Ken talks to their boss (after putting up an absurd charade to make it seem as though Ray is with him, only to shoo the imaginary Ray away). The boss wants Ray to retire—permanently—and Ken to pull the trigger. This is as far as I dare go talking about the plot. The strength of McDonagh's script is the way he takes what at first seem to be dangling threads of character and scenario quirks and weaves them together into an amusingly coincidental whole. Chloë appears to joke around with Ray after he tells her he's a murderer, but then we meet an ex-boyfriend of hers (Jérémie Renier) who immediately shatters our expectations of her.

The ex's story would probably be finished here, but then we meet Yuri (Eric Godon), a local arms dealer for Ray and Ken's boss, who, in addition to overanalyzing the use of the word "alcove," has a connection to Chloë's ex, who, as a result, becomes vital in the trajectory of the film's climax. When Ray and Ken visit a museum, they sit back and admire (yes, even Ray) a painting depicting the Last Judgment, and the final moments of the film eerily hark back to that imagery.

Beforehand, though, that image becomes a springboard for the two hitmen to discuss their moral code. Ken wants to live a good life, which he and Ray debate is difficult in a modern world, especially if one kills people for living as they do. Ken's character arc in particular is intriguing, especially in a great scene in a park where he instantly goes from fulfilling the task his boss has assigned him to trying to help a friend in need. Brendan Gleeson is utterly fascinating in the role, and Colin Farrell is somehow incredibly funny and equally sad.

The dynamic of their relationship and the quandary that Ken faces in balancing his loyalty to his boss and his desire to aid a fellow human being is a story arc unto itself, and then McDonagh throws a wrench in the works (in a good way) by introducing the boss. He's played by Ralph Fiennes, and in our first glimpse of him, he goes from a violent outburst to a tender scene with his wife, who knows what he does, and children. The balancing act of tying the pieces together while introducing what this new character adds to Ken's predicament is some fine writing on McDonagh's end.

In Bruges doesn't so much devolve into a standard chase climax as it logically progresses there. McDonagh keeps it as such by continuing the characters' discussions and allowing us to see the ends to which their code leads them. The climax finds not redemption for the characters but certainly a sort of vindication for their twisted morals and our sense of their getting what they deserve.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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