Movie Review: In Bruges

Visually stunning photography of the silent byways and crannies of the ancient medieval city of Bruges frames a story of guilt and honor played out by wonderfully demented hit men

Ray has a problem.  He is a murderer who has done a very bad thing.  And doing a very bad thing is difficult for a man who earns his daily bread by gunning people down in the most macabre fashion imaginable; often shooting them multiple times so that the intent of the murder is quite unmistakable to the inquiring public.  One can only imagine what it was, exactly, that the priest did to deserve it.  But the unintended consequences will have to be addressed.

Played to the hilt by Colin Farrell, Ray is falling to pieces.  In fact, Ray is falling to pieces almost as well as Farrell’s Terry is falling to pieces in Woody Allen’s most recent crime thriller, “Cassandra’s Dream.”  In both cases, Farrell tries for the Guinness record for the protagonist existing on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the longest period in film.  Put the two films together and he definitely gets the award.

His pal is Ken, played in a splendid performance by Brendan Gleeson.  Ken is sort of a father type to Ray, although Ken also survives from day to day because he is well aware of the difference between friendship and business.  This comes to a head when big boss Harry (Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes) determines that Ray’s time has come at last and that his best friend and father figure Ken must do the dirty work.

At this point the film shifts to a parallel universe with Sir Ben Kingsley’s masterpiece, “Sexy Beast.”  Although few actors win kudos for imitating anybody, Fiennes does a pretty good job of transforming into the sexy beast right before our very eyes.  He is so emotionally detached and so viscerally, speechlessly enraged that the fury radiates from his eyes like Superman’s x-ray vision.  The heat rises in a plume off his head as he spits out the news to his wife that he must travel to Bruges on business.

You see, this is a matter of honor to Harry.  He gave Ken an order and Ken has no right to get human on him.  All the while, Ken is actually getting to like Bruges (pronounced “Broozh), what with it being the home of most magnificent medieval architecture in Belgium, if not all of Western Europe.  Ray, on the other hand, passes his time in hilarious torment viewing the ancient icons of the medieval crusades; showing the finer details of stripping the skin from the feet of pagans and testing ancient rope and lever mechanisms on unlucky disbelievers.

In the midst of all this, the eve of his almost certain demise, Ray has the extreme misfortune to fall in love.  Ken has fallen in love with the city but completely understands that if Harry has his way, both he and Ken will be taking the place of the heathens in the current versions of those torture portraits.

An excellent next film for director Martin McDonagh, after a three year hiatus, following his Oscar winning Best Live Action Short Film, “Six Shooter,” in 2004.  This is great stuff from start to finish with no lack of either action, raw grit or sublime edginess.  The filming on location in Bruges required some of the most inventive angles and lighting you will ever see, with the moldy and cloistered buildings whispering their secrets and the boats sliding silently through the canals.  BAFTA award winning lenser Eigil Bryld (“Becoming Jane”) was completely up to the task in a work of sumptuous photographic depth and complexity.

A completely enjoyable movie for the august amongst the crime-thriller enthusiasts.  The R rating is completely for real, not only for the drug use and incredibly pervasive nasty language, but for some bloody violence of the first order.  Best to leave all but the most mature teenagers home for this one.

Release: February 8, 2008 Limited
MPAA: Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use
Runtime: 107 minutes
Country: UK / Belgium
Language: English
Color: Color