McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is a wholly unique piece of work

R, 107 minutes, Focus Features

My first visit to the art cinema in 2008 started with a mesmerizing bang with In Bruges, the directorial debut from playwright Martin McDonagh that manages to weave together what seems like every genre ever created into one, sprawling event that is very singular. Fading in to the intriguingly beautiful town called Bruges, located in Belgium, McDonagh gives us the opportunity to become acquainted with the architecture of a place that we’re going to need to fully inhabit shall we become truly involved with the story and the characters for the film that will follow. McDonagh wisely uses the entire opening credit sequence to present us with a quick tourist attraction and introduction to the surroundings, beautifully photographing the ancient buildings after dusk, beneath the still moonlight. We are being thrust into this environment just like our two main characters, hitmen Ken and Ray, who are on different ends of their “careers” and trying to gel together on a hideout after their first assignment goes somewhat not according to plan.

Ken is the older of the two, a man who has been in his line of work so long that he is immersed to the point of no return. Brendan Gleeson is cast in this role, an old friend of McDonagh who also appeared in his Oscar-winning short film, Six Shooter, and it’s wonderful to see the underrated Irish veteran get such a meaty and well-written individual. Colin Farrell is perfectly placed at Gleeson’s side as Ray, a naive soul who just clearly isn’t cut out for what he so openly calls “shooting people for money”. They are told to hide out at a fairly secluded little inn in Bruges, to sightsee by day and shack up at night until they receive a call from the boss, named Harry, which could be up to two weeks. Ken has absolutely no problem with being in Bruges for whatever amount of time needed because he has long anticipated being able to witness the sites of the land that he considers to be beautiful. Ray could not be more opposite in every way. The first moment of dialogue heard in the film is the start of Ray’s impatient mumblings about how boring and un-hip Bruges is. The two actors play their parts to a high level, bouncing off of each other so well and taking the already polished words to a new realm, ultimately fashioning what is arguably the best work of their careers to date. There is a great deal of time spent on the two men walking the streets of the town and just rapping about at different monuments, with Ray constantly begging Ken to go out to the pub each night, nagging like an incessant child. The two are so different but can easily just be around each other as they spend more time together, and without them even realizing it they form some sort of bond that can only be felt in real friendship. With a true friendship comes extremely tough choices, especially in a profession like theirs, because conscience comes into play and that is something that hitmen just cannot have if they want to continue to perform in a manner that makes their bosses happy.

When Ken goes against the demands of Harry and decides not to take out Ray in favor of sending him on a train out of Bruges and the profession altogether to start over, Ken knows that he is to meet inevitable doom when Harry makes a visit to the town to clean up. The film is a superb piece of entertainment, both comedically and in an insightful and unexpectedly deep manner, and knowing that it is a directorial debut makes it all the more fascinating. When Harry is finally seen on screen in all of his maniacal glory, the third act of the movie is set in motion, where we are sent down a spiral into even more absurd actions, emotions, events, and strange humor that isn’t uninvited, just spontaneous and unexpected. Ralph Fiennes plays Harry so energetically and deranged and devious that he makes the character even more memorable than he should have been. There are only a handful or less of moments between him and Gleeson, but they are so singular and amazingly constructed and acted that they count, for me, as some of the best sequences I’ve witnessed in film in quite some time. The film will most likely be a hard sell to the normal audience member, but please give In Bruges your time, because if it affects you like I think it will, you will find yourself unlocking something like a treasure chest of fresh filmmaking. I had a ball of a time with the films of 2007, especially in the last three months, indulging myself with film after film of strong storytelling. It almost felt like I was a person spoiling my eyes and ears to no end, and I didn’t think the performers of the world could ever come close this year to even half-matching the greatness of that all. With McDonagh’s film it just goes to show that the emergence of a flourishing amount of original ideas that sort of began last year did not end with last year, it only marked a beginning to something that could go on for a very long time. We can only hope so. Do yourself a favor and see In Bruges, especially if you’re looking for something that dares to shock you in more ways than one. Each year there is t least one early release that deserves to be remembered later in the year. This is certainly the first movie of the year that should be included in later talk of the best pieces of work in 2008.

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2 Responses to “McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is a wholly unique piece of work”

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