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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

In Bruges (review)

Ray and Ken Live for a Day

Imagine if Laurel and Hardy were Irish hitmen caught in a web of existential angst. That’s what In Bruges is: intellectual slapstick, a ticklish combination of comic torment, a brutal grasping of life’s fickleness, and sheer bloody violence that is like a shout in the dark against it, as if you could hold back the universe’s uncaring by taking its senselessness into your own hands, by being as miserable a bloody bastard as the universe is itself. It makes you have to laugh, however shallowly, because what else can you do? It all makes no goddamn sense at all.
This is not an uplifting movie. Just so’s you know. Don’t expect kittens and balloons.

Ray and Ken, they’re hired killers, and they work in London, but as In Bruges opens their boss has told them to scram for a while after a job that’s gone bad. He sends them to Bruges, in Belgium — for reasons that transpire later to be bizarrely hilarious — which, if I gather correctly, is like sending someone to Cinncinnati to hide out. It’s place you can spend a year in over a weekend, is the idea, except it looks like a pretty little town that I’d actually really like to visit. If I weren’t, you know, haunted by something horrible that had just happened to me. You have to wonder what would be horrible to a hitman, what would bother him, but Colin Farrell’s Ray is clearly distressed about whatever went down in London, which is in itself rather distressing to the audience.

Because Ray seems like kind of a nice guy. I mean, for all that he’s a hired killer. And for all that he comes across as pretty obnoxious and mean and thoughtlessly rude (there are a few funny and very un-P.C. scenes of his shocking rudeness). But here’s the thing about Ray, and about Farrell’s (Cassandra’s Dream, Miami Vice) inspired performance, which is like nothing we’ve seen him do before, and full of the weird wit and churning undercurrents that we would desperately hope to continue to see more of from him again: he’s dumb, but he’s deep, in his own unique way. He doesn’t mean to be mean when he says things that anyone with half a brain would recognize as mean and hence would keep their mouths shut about. He means to be honest — he’s even enthusiastic, in a strange kind of way. I mean, he tells Ken, attempting to explain how bored he is by Bruges and all its medieval churches and cobblestone streets and the like, that “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” “Didn’t” meaning, clearly, that he didn’t grow up on a farm, leaving open the possibility that he might be somewhat mentally retarded. And I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that mental retardation is in itself amusing: I mean to suggest that Ray’s deeply philosophical bent — of which there is much more on offer — is hilarious because of its unfettered honestly. He sincerely does not realize what an idiot he is, which makes him a peculiar brand of brilliant.

So when he says, as he and Ken are stumbling around Bruges and happen upon a movie shoot, “They’re filming midgets!”… you know, he’s genuinely excited by this, and in no way that is meant to be exploitive. Ray ends up befriending the midget, after all.

If this sounds, well, surrealistic, yeah, it kinda is. First-time screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh has crafted a movie that is at once improbably funny, deeply disturbing, intensely thrilling, deliciously brainy, and totally visceral: basically, it’s just all-around genius. It gets way more involved than having Ray and Ken wander an old city for a few days, pondering the meaning of life and shit — Ken gets a call, eventually, with a new job from the boss, and later the boss shows up, and it all ends up as a much a parody of the hitman action movie as a walloping hitman action movie itself. And have I not mentioned Brendan Gleeson (Beowulf, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)? He’s Ken, and he’s the perfect foil for Farrell’s Ray, smarter and wilier but far more sentimental than Ray.

This may sound weird, but work with me: In Bruges is kinda a bookend to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, if you’re the kind of moviegoer who just wants great story and unforgettable characters and doesn’t care whether they come in a screwball chick-flick package or an ultraviolent hitman-black-comedy package. For Farrell is Amy Adams’ ditzy showgirl and Gleeson is Frances McDormand’s sensible chaperone and they discover what they’re made of in each other’s company. And it is not, perhaps, what either of them would expect.


MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
explore:
  • I loved this movie. (And I’ve been to Bruges, back when I lived in Europe growing up. I remember liking it, but kids are easily impressed. I don’t know if I would be now. Maybe I just liked it because they have really good chocolate there.) This is definitely a dark movie (the trailer doesn’t really touch on that), but it’s chock full of funny bits; getting to see Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, and Ralph Fiennes all be funny in the same movie is definitely worth the price of admission. Peter Dinklage (the midget… er, little person) is hilarious.

    If I had to compare this movie to another, the other would be Sexy Beast, which also dealt with the British underworld and had a raving nutter of a bad guy (Ben Kingsley in that movie; Fiennes in this one).

  • God, I loved this movie. I just started laughing when the end credits began rolling because it was so weird and different and it made me so happy. Great characters, fantastic dialogue (there was this one line that had me in tears laughing because Ray totally lost the thread of where he was taking the joke, just like a real person, and that doesn’t happen very often in the movies), deft movement from comedy to tragedy and back, unexpected storyline – what a wonderful movie.

  • JT

    Like Clayj, I was reminded of Sexy Beast. Both are simmering hitman films with a late appearance by an explosive boss (although Kingsley was way nuttier than Fiennes).

    I thought the second act of the film had a snappier pace, better dialogue and altogether darkly funny atmosphere with an excellent score.

    The first act and third act bothered me (but only slightly). In the first act, the ‘politically incorrect’ dialogue didn’t sit well with me. The film seemed to make every character insult other characters by calling them gay, black, dwarfs, retarded, etc. Political incorrectness to me is when the status quo is challenged, not when minorities are weakly targeted.

    And the ending – SPOILERS

    I just didn’t buy the sequence of events. Harry doesn’t want to shoot Ken in a public square so they go to a desolate place like the tower. But then Harry is comfortable shooting Ray on a busy film set with cameras probably rolling? It seemed like an ill-conceived move to say the least.

    END SPOILERS

    However, I did like the film. I thought it was funny and I really did care about the characters and I loved the setting of Bruges. Despite what Ray was saying throughout, I do want to visit it now.

  • Kate

    I LOVED it. This film was great. All three leads were amazing. This film broke my heart and made me laugh–often with the use of the very same line.

    FYI that’s not Peter Dinklage, it’s an actor called Jordan Prentice.

  • Weird. IMDb says it’s Dinklage:

    http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0780536/fullcredits#cast

  • Dave

    Grrr….Why oh why does this have to be a limited release?

  • Kate

    Clayj: Peter Dinklage is listed as “dwarf actor, uncredited” on imdb, but the main little person character was Jimmy, right? Jimmy is listed as Jordan Prentice and that’s the name I’ve seen in other reviews? Now I’m confused. =D

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think Dinklage is in this movie at all. I’m a huge fan of his — I think I would have noticed even if he was in the background. I’m pretty sure he’s not.

    In the first act, the ‘politically incorrect’ dialogue didn’t sit well with me. The film seemed to make every character insult other characters by calling them gay, black, dwarfs, retarded, etc. Political incorrectness to me is when the status quo is challenged, not when minorities are weakly targeted.

    I don’t think “minorities” are “targeted” by the film’s un-PC dialogue — I think the characters saying the un-PC dialogue are the targets. We’re meant to understand something about them through what they say and how they say it… and NOT meant to take their ideas about what they’re saying as anything other than that.

  • Hmm. Now that I have looked up Jordan Prentice, I have to say that he and Dinklage really remind me of each other. Even their expressions and mannerisms seem similar to me.

  • Katie

    Oh how I enjoyed this movie. I went in expecting it to be dryly funny (Farrell’s “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” bit in the trailer had me in near hysterics thanks to his delivery) and just enjoyable. I was shocked by it’s much darker tones and subject matter. But it worked and it great and oh please let Farrell keep doing great work like this.

  • Scott P

    I had already planned to pull a 2 for 1 matinee tomorrow to see In Bruges & Miss Pettigrew.
    $6.50 to see 2 flicks– can’t beat that.

    Then I read this review & see that Mary Ann says these 2 films are “bookends” for each other. Could it get any more perfect?

  • Anji

    I loved this movie! My girlfriend didn’t…but we’re not together anymore, so maybe it was fate. It was a bit like The Boondock Saints, but much more intelligent and less likely to be co-opted by Hot Topic.

  • Tyler

    The scene set to “On Raglan Road” is easily one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time, much less 2008. This is an amazingly underrated movie.

  • Patrick

    I think you misinterpreted the Farrell character’s digs at Bruges when you say it is apparently like being sent to Cincinnati. In fact it is supposed to be a fascinating place, Farrell/Ray not liking it is an indication of his parochial outlook. He doesn’t like it because it’s not Dublin, not because of anything about Bruges, at least that’s how I saw it.

    That sure looked like Dinklage, I think it must be, same guy as in The Station Agent. Curious that he wasn’t credited.

  • MaryAnn

    I think you misinterpreted the Farrell character’s digs at Bruges when you say it is apparently like being sent to Cincinnati.

    I think you missed me saying, “it looks like a pretty little town that I’d actually really like to visit.” I think you missed that my saying “it’s like being sent to Cincinnati” is coming from the perception of the characters, not my own.

  • Patrick

    Sheesh, try to say something constructive and this is the reply I got. I did not miss you saying you’d like Bruges. But on a second reading, I did miss the part where you added that being in Bruges is like “sending someone to Cincinnati” is actually the perception of the characters. I think most readings of the line from your review, below, (“If I gather correctly”) are that in the world of the movie, Bruges isn’t a desireable place to be. You wrote it, you know what you meant, just saying it isn’t clear that’s how you meant it.

    He sends them to Bruges, in Belgium — for reasons that transpire later to be bizarrely hilarious — which, if I gather correctly, is like sending someone to Cincinnati to hide out. It’s place you can spend a year in over a weekend, is the idea, except it looks like a pretty little town that I’d actually really like to visit.

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