Droid defines the decades best movies – #6 In Bruges (2008)
Hands up those who have been to Bruges. Anyone? Anyone? Well, I have. It was the second stop on a couple of month boozing holiday around Western Europe, and was sandwiched between the cultural delights of Paris and the grimy debauchery of Amsterdam. And while I didn’t find it to be “like a fairytale”, it was a pretty cool little city, if a bit sleepy. Unfortunately for me, there were no midgets. But there were plenty of fat yanks.
After a hit gone wrong, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent to Bruges, in Belgium, to lay low for a couple of weeks by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). There they encounter a midget on horse tranquillisers (Jordan Prentice), a hot drug dealing production assistant (Clémence Poésy), douchebag Canadians, and the aforementioned fat yanks. When Ken defies Harry’s order to kill Ray, Harry comes to town to finish the job.
Man, it’s not very easy to summarise the plot without giving anything away.
The strength of ‘In Bruges’ is in the writing and the acting. It’s the feature length debut of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who both wrote and directed. The characters are so sharply written that they immediately seem real, and without any unnecessary exposition it feels like we know all about them. Take Fiennes’ character as an example. He’s only heard on the phone and in a voiceover for at least half the film, but when we finally see Harry, we already know what type of person he is. Both Fiennes and Gleeson are terrific, but we have come to expect that.
The big surprise here is Colin Farrell. Farrell is an actor I like, and have since I first saw him in ‘Tigerland’. But he suffered from that Ben Affleck syndrome of doing every movie possible when he became famous, resulting in him appearing in far too many mediocre films and subsequently becoming overexposed. This is by far his best performance. He’s got perfect comic timing, and also shows some serious dramatic chops. It’s the most comfortable and natural performance I’ve seen him give, and I think it’s got to do with the fact that he’s allowed to be Irish. For another example, see the Scrubs episode he’s in. Without the distractions of accent, he’s free to get in to the character. He is certainly aided by the terrific writing, but it’s a wonderful performance nonetheless, and got shamefully overlooked at awards season. As did the whole film, but we don’t much care about such things do we? I’d have showered Farrell with awards just for the look on his face when he and Ken are on the boat. I really can’t talk up his performance enough.
McDonagh has also created the greatest scene ever to repeatedly use the word ‘cunt’. It’s so hilarious I had to rewind it and watch it again. It’s a perfectly written scene and Fiennes and Gleeson completely nail it. The thing that elevates the scene is the fact that it’s not just two characters having a go at each other, it’s that these two are obviously long time friends, there’s a lot of history there, and Harry is legitimately hurt by what Ken says to him. Fiennes’ reaction to Ken calling his kids cunts is priceless.
There’s also some shocking violence in the film, and the two deaths towards the end are unique in that they are brought about my moral choices that individual characters make. And there’s many pleasures to be found from the details. Ken dropping coins to clear the area below, or the fact that the gun is smashed makes the film that much better. There’s real thought that’s gone into the film, and the thing that sets it apart from the pack is that strict logic is applied to the characters actions. You don’t often see that.
‘In Bruges’ is a very unique film in that it perfectly balances comedy, drama and action. It’s a fish out of water film, a buddy movie and a thriller all rolled into one. And it all works. The writing is about as good as you can get. At first what you think will be a cliché gets slanted in a unique direction. It’s well directed and very pretty to look at. Bruges is a cool little city and the film does it justice. The performances are outstanding from everyone involved. And Farrell karate chops a midget. What more could you want?
The list so far…