Sacha Howells December 22, 2008
Unlike the Golden Globes nominating committee, I wouldn’t call the hitmen-on-holiday movie In Bruges a comedy. Sure, there are very funny lines, and the cast of misfits wandering the streets could be played for easy laughs. But the light touch, steady pacing, and deep characterizations give this as much dramatic heft as the one-eyed drug dealers, foul-mouthed one-liners, and Belgian jokes make it a comedy. Fine, there’s only one Belgian joke, and it ends up not being funny to its intended audience — maybe. See? This is an interesting film.
And it’s one that I know most of you didn’t see. Since it came out in February, it’s made just $7.8 million. That’s not so good. (Look at it this way: on its opening day The Dark Knight was pulling in that much every three hours.)
But it’s not too late. Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actor for both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson may give it new life in the theaters, so if you see an ad for a dollar theater screening, take a chance. Still need convincing? I thought you’d never ask.
First off, the script is smart, funny, and unexpected, with small throwaway moments that come back as major elements, and lines and ideas that resonate throughout. That comes as no surprise; this may be writer and director Martin McDonagh’s first feature, but he won an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter in 2005, and his plays, which balance violence and misery with the blackest of humor, have been nominated for four Tonys.
Here his banter between Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) is pitch-perfect, with one-liners and asides that carry more weight than they seem to, never as glib or flash as Quentin Tarantino, but with a similar glance at the day-to-day world of people living violent lives. McDonagh balances bickering over what kind of beer to order with a sudden, heartfelt discussion of whether there’s an afterlife; Ray, the brash young rookie, has accidentally killed a young boy, which is why they’ve been banished to Bruges. But where a body in a Tarantino film is usually a symbol or a punch line, here it’s a dead boy, with real aftermath and consequences. And when one of those consequences becomes Ken’s being ordered to kill Ray, the movie never takes the decision lightly.
But while you can’t have a good movie without a good script, the script alone can’t save bad actors. And here the acting is astonishing, with one performance that came as a complete surprised to me: Colin Farrell is great. Not great for him, just great. After the Triple Crown embarrassments of Alexander, Miami Vice, and that leaked sex tape, I’d started to think he’d become just a professional movie star, one of those people we all agree is a celebrity, but can’t quite remember how he got there. But here he’s funny, nasty, frightened, sad — you know, acting.
Brendan Gleeson is always good, and Ken is something of an update of a character he played ten years ago in I Went Down, but now the mobster’s a middle-aged man trying to live with the choices he’s made. As a playwright, McDonagh writes wordy scenes, and In Bruges wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Gleeson and Farrell. They banter and jab like people who really have known each other for years.
Rounding out the cast is Ralph Fiennes, playing against type as Harry, Ken’s thug of a boss who heads to Bruges to clean up the mess. He doesn’t even look the same, all pointy features, greasy hair, and weedy teeth, and his Harry is ferocious. But even here, the mobbed-up thug has his forgiving side, and his honor. He also bashes a phone to pieces on his desk when he gets bad news.
But if a brilliant, surprising script that gets the acting it deserves doesn’t convince, here’s my final plea — it’s a holiday movie. I mean, no one takes a train to the North Pole or learns the true meaning of giving, but it does take place just before Christmas, with decorations and carolers all over (there’s even a pregnant woman in an inn, but I’m reaching). So see it Christmas Day, or take it in as a Hanukkah present to yourself. Or for the Solstice. Just see it.
Categories: No CategoriesTags: Brendan gleeson, Colin farrell, In bruges