Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Imagine a gangster film in which nothing happens. That's where I thought I was for the first half of this movie, in a film about what gangsters are like when they're on vacation and not being gangsters.
Not that this is a bad thing. The first half of In Bruges is the best part. Nothing happens in very interesting ways.
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrel) are a couple Irish hit men who are told to hide on the Continent following an assassination, and who end up in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges during the Christmas season. Ken loves the place, Ray hates it.
With nothing to do, they wander over the town, bickering, reminiscing, and encountering the locals. An American film is shooting in the town, featuring a drug-hungry dwarf played by the excellent Jordan Prentice. ("Bruges," Ray mutters, "even midgets have to take drugs to stick it.") On the set Ray meets an attractive woman named Chloe (Clémence Poésy, who I last saw as Fleur in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and the two strike up a relationship that turns out to swing the movie in a totally unanticipated direction.
The film develops a more conventional shape when trouble comes to town, in the form of gang boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). But first Harry has to get a gun from the local dealer. ("An Uzi? I'm not from South Central Los Angeles. I didn't come here to shoot twenty black ten-year-olds in a drive-by. I want a normal gun for a normal person.") Harry is a pretty unconventional gang boss, insofar as he's obsessed by honor: he'd call his enemies to the dueling ground if he could. (This was the part of the film that I found the least convincing. There's little point in being a gang boss if you don't have an actual gang to do your killing for you.)
The final shootout is nothing you haven't seen before, but it's informed by all the unconventional action in the first hour, so it's a little more than an ordinary shoot-out, if a little less than I'd hoped.
In Bruges is beautifully constructed, with no scenes out of place and no moment gone to waste. Writer/director Martin McDonagh did a brilliant job. You could use this film to teach structure in a film school. It's that well put together.
In Bruges is very funny, but the humor is utterly black, a postcard from a picture-perfect fairy-tail medieval town where hope no longer exists. If you're up for an unconventional genre film with a savagely violent finish, then this may be your cup of Irish Breakfast.
For me, I thought the film was worth it for the Belgian skinhead alone.