In Bruges is the latest stop on Colin Farrell's comeback tour, and dare I say it is one of the best films he's ever been involved with. It is a movie that is part comedy, part drama, part action, and part travelogue.
I am sure you have seen plenty of reviews that tell you how to pronounce the city in the title; allow this to be just one more (in case you happened to miss all of the others). It is "Broozh" and not "Bruggs" or "Broogs"; it is similar to the sound of the word "bruise." I felt the need to go through this, as I had my own questions about the pronunciation. The first promotion I saw was the poster, which was followed with the thought, "In what?" Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to the film itself, which has proved itself to be a cinematic gem.
If you are looking for an impressive big screen debut, look no further. In Bruges is the screenwriting and directorial debut of Martin McDonagh. Now, don't go thinking that McDonagh has no experience; he has been gaining considerable notoriety as a playwright, considered one of the best up and coming writers, not to mention his five Tony award nominations. Beyond that, he did try his hand at film writing, helming and penning the short film Six-Shooter which would go on to win the Academy Award in 2005 for best Live Action Short. He has taken all of that experience and proceeded to deliver a feature film that is the antithesis of the majority of what Hollywood has been turning out. At least, it stands out amongst the early offerings of 2008.
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are a pair of Irish hitmen in the employ of a British gangster. After a hit goes wrong, the two are sent to Bruges to lay low and wait for orders. This is an order to which the duo have a decidedly split reaction. Ken is more than happy to slow down and take in the sights, exhibiting a genuine interest in the city and what it contains. On the other hand, Ray is younger and a bit more headstrong and ready to go. He has no interest in cooling his heels in this town, nor in spending time sharing a room with his partner. However, show him a movie being shot around the corner, and his willingness to stay increases, if only slightly.
What makes In Bruges work so well is the way the pace is kept surging forward, not through standard cliches, but through careful character development. The further into the film we go, the more and more we learn about these men, what makes them tick, and possibly most importantly, just why they are in Bruges.
This is a film to be savored, a film to get wrapped up in, a film to have fun with. Yes, that is right. It is filled with human characters having genuine reactions. It is not what you expect, yet it delivers more than you think. I could go through and give you plot points and moments that help elevate the film, but to what end? Why should I do that? This is a movie to discover. There is so much to see here, and it deserves to be experienced that way.
There are a number of elements that combine to make this film as good as it is. One of those elements is the location. The vast majority of the film takes place in Bruges, and if this does not make you want to visit the city, I don't now what will. The city, in Belgium, is the oldest medieval city in existence, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Old structures, fantastic architecture, canals, cobblestone streets — I cannot imagine anywhere else in the world capturing this old world feel. It is like traveling back in time. The cinematography from Eigil Bryld (Becoming Jane) captures the city beautifully and keeps the context within the film, never devolving into a travel magazine look at the city.
Next to the cinematography is the acting. Colin Farrell delivers a fantastic performance as Ray, the hot-tempered, irritable, sarcastic half of the team. This appears to be the year of Farrell's comeback, not seen since Miami Vice in 2006. He has laid low and is now re-emerging with Cassandra's Dream, In Bruges, and the upcoming Pride and Glory. He seems to be getting closer to delivering the acting promise he held a few years ago when he first emerged on the scene. It is clear he has talent, and In Bruges is a good showcase heading into the next phase of his career. Of course, it does not hurt to have Brendan Gleeson at your side. He brings a more mature persona to the table, calming, intelligent, and loyal; the exact opposite of Farrell, making them the perfect couple.
Now, beyond the look and the acting, what is likely the single most important piece to the quality of the film is writer/director Martin McDonagh. I know I spoke of his work earlier, but the quality of work for his first feature film cannot be overstated. It is filled with snappy dialogue, laugh out loud funny jokes, plenty of unexpected moments, and more character building sequences than you can shake your fist at.
Bottom line. See this movie, track it down and go. You will not be disappointed. It delivers on all fronts. I went in hoping to enjoy the film; instead I fell in love. What surprised me most was how funny it was. I could not have predicted the number of laugh out loud moments throughout, nor other elements such as the extent of involvement of the dwarf in the trailer, not even how emotionally involved I would feel by the time the climax arrived. Trust me and see ths movie.