In Bruges (2008)

In every country, especially during difficult times, Comedy is a national treasure. While taste varies from person to person, it is one of the great pleasures of life regardless of what is happening. Some like it physical, others like it witty, and others a hybrid of the two…and others like it darker than black coffee on a moonless night. Tonight, we’ll be diving into such material…and on top of that this dark material is happening at Christmas time…In Bruges.

Set in Bruges (pun possibly intended for once) in the modern day (Christmas, 2008…even though it was shot in 2007 as well), our story revolves around 2 Irish Assassins; Ken (played by Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (played by Colin Farrell). The distinction between the 2 men is like night and day before we even see them. Ken doesn’t mind being in Bruges, while Ray would rather be somewhere he knows, rather than in Bruges, of all places. So why are they in Bruges? Well, an assassination job went wrong, Ray is clearly quite shaken by it, and they are both in hiding until their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), tells them it’s okay to come out…but is that the plan? That’s where the plot thickens.

Now to look at the detail:

The acting in the film is excellent, and to be blunt, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell have absolutely phenomenal chemistry. The only moment that seemed a little out of character was one of the Americans, who says an American phrase with a rather evident Scottish delivery…and that’s it. I love Gleeson’s “Killer with a heart” performance, as his role is like that of an Uncle looking after a grumpy nephew on a sight-seeing trip. Colin Farrell’s amazing as the metaphorical grumpy nephew. Then there’s Ralph Fiennes as Harry, putting on quite an unforgettable performance.

The characters are incredibly likeable, even during some rather antagonising moments…and the reason for this, is because their dialogue is comedy gold. The movie has a mega-ton of cursing and swearing (126 F-words to be exact) – but here, it’s part of the experience. Outside of Ray and Ken, the other main character and primary antagonist is Harry. Remember I mentioned the cursing and swearing? Well, I’d say eighty percent of that is his. His character is complicated because he is very much a cold-hearted, bloodthirsty monster – but the one thing that keeps him human is children. More specifically his own children, who he loves like the best father. As a code, women and children are safe from his harm. In terms of Ken and Ray’s interaction with Bruges, it is based on director Martin McDonagh’s own experience of Bruges, as a small Medieval Village that he almost explored completely in a day before wanting to go eventually go to the Pub. Ken represents Martin’s Tourist side, while Ray represents his desire to have a bit of craic afterwards.

The story is that of a tragic-comedy, similar to other works by Martin MacDonagh, primarily The Pillowman, but also Three Billboards. It also has one of the most politically incorrect plots you’ll ever experience…and by the end of it you’re not going to care about who it offends, because like the experience of excessive naughtiness, it’s bad for you, but after a while it feels like you got a lot off your chest. I got a lot of enjoyment from the more absurd moments of Ray trying to have a good time, and annoying people, mostly other tourists.

The musical score is by Carter Burwell who works mostly with the Coen Brothers and Bill Condon. He’s a very busy composer, and for good reason – he’s good. Very good. The piano piece that plays in the prologue and through the film before expanding into one with brass is a very recognisable theme – Sometimes it will play in my head when I too sight see on a cloudy day.

The art style and cinematography is excellent. Bruges itself is presented not only as a character, but also as both an advertisement and an anti-advertisement of a Medieval Town and as suggested, “like an F’n Fairytale”. The advertisement is from Ken’s point of view – that of the tourist looking at the architecture, the churches, the river, and the museums. Ray on the other hand sees it from the perspective of somebody who really, really doesn’t want to be there – like a toddler in a supermarket, or more clearly, a Dubliner in the middle of the countryside. In general, it is a very organic setting, and I love that the people of Bruges were kind enough to keep their Christmas decorations up until March that year. At the same time, Bruges is presented as a kind of metaphor for the Purgatory within Roman Catholicism. In Ray’s case, this is where he goes before his Judgement, and where Ken comes to some interesting realisations that could possibly redeem him. I can mention the special effects here as well. They’re only presented if they look realistic enough, and they were done very well.

Would I recommend In Bruges? Yes. If you were ever interested in knowing how dark and mature Irish Humour can be, this film is a perfect example of it. It maintains a great tragedy that’s a common staple within Irish productions, while at the same time showing the world why Sigmund Freud’s most universal approach to psychoanalysis was useless on the Irish. It’s also an important film because it more or less revived our (my) interest in Colin Farrell, four years after 2004’s Alexander gave us a good laugh. It’s very funny, tightly written, and reminds us that tomorrow is another day. To say the very least, there are few Christmas movies darker than In Bruges.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: *****

Story: ****1/2

Special Effects/CGI: ****

Art Style: ****

Cinematography: ****1/2

Music: *****

Overall: ****1/2

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