I saw In Bruges on a whim after it generated considerable buzz early this year. It’s already on DVD after a February release, unfortunate for a well-advertised indie; despite Colin Farrell in the lead, it didn’t have legs. Probably because it’s a brutally dark comedy; it was sold as being like Snatch and other recent screwy U.K. crime comedies, when it really isn’t. It’s a bit deeper, a lot darker; it has colorful characters too, but these are more rooted in reality. The other thing it had against it was no one could pronounce the title. It’s broozh, for the record. I think I called it Brooges, but then again, I mispronounce everything.
This is a damn shame, because it is one of the best movies this year, if you have a sick sense of humor. I can’t reveal too much of the story, because watching it unfold is part of the fun. It involves two hit men who have to cool off in the sleepy medieval tourist town of the title after a botched job. The other great part is the characters. I used to think Colin Farrell was useless, but this movie may even make up for King Arthur. Brendan Gleeson, one of my favorite fat Irish actors, plays Ken, who is making the best of the little “vacation,” seeing the sights, playing it cool. Farrell’s Ray is a city boy from Dublin, and finds the town’s glacial pace maddening; he stays in the pub most of the time, ordering “a gay beer for my gay friend and a normal beer for me because I am normal,” poking fun at the snifters of Belgian beer vs. the manly Irish pint of brown.
The movie is directed by Martin McDonagh, his first major film- and it’s an achievement. It deftly unravels it’s little tale, and we learn what happened with the botched job, why the boss sent them to Bruges of all places, and what exactly these guys have on their minds. Ken is more of a brooding old crook, he has no illusions about what they do- kill people. Ray is the young pup, fiery tempered, sardonic gabber.
The botched hit that drives the plot begins as nothing new- he is in the confessional, getting penitence for the crime he is about to commit- but the bullet goes through the priest and hits a young boy who was next in line. In the middle of your chuckle you’re greeted with horror; and the movie progresses from there, with the manic Ray trying to deal with what he has done. Their boss, Harry, whom we only hear over the phone, sends them far away to let the heat cool off; but he has other reasons, and is given depth of his own.
Ray can’t stand the town, but finally perks up when he seems a film being shot, and rushes over like a giddy schoolboy. By way of that, he meets Natalie, a pretty girl working with the crew, and Jimmy, a little person acting in the movie. Ray is the kind of guy who makes a bad first impression and then corrects it in your mind, if he likes you; before long he’s doing coke with them and Jimmy’s prostitute in a hotel room, and where it goes from there is anyone’s guess, but McDonagh’s story has its own logic- it goes where it has to go, where it will inevitably go.
McDonagh was a playwright first and the film reminded me of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, also about two criminals holed up; the story keeps surprising you, but without going on crazy tangents. It deftly distracts you from what you know must come next. I’m sure it will be compared to other crime films from across the pond like Guy Ritchie’s, but it reminded me a little of Layer Cake when there was tension, but the humorous vibe is all it’s own.
The humor arises from its characters, and the story they find themselves in; the perfect tone is leavened by McDonagh’s considerable writing talent and the skill of the actors. There’s a surprise appearance of one of my favorite actors, Ralph Fiennes, who’s made a career of playing villains; he makes a new one here as Harry the mob boss, as principled as he is ruthless. And funny in just the right way, reminiscent of Ray Barboni from Get Shorty with an appropriate dry manner. Jordan Prentice plays Jimmy, the little actor with a proclivity for whores and cocaine; I mistook him for Peter Dinklage at first, to my shame. He has a similar acerbity, but he’s good in his own right- hopefully there’s room for two smart-ass little people in Hollywood, because I can’t get enough of Dinklage and would like to see Prentice again, he’s that good. He was the bag of pot in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and survived the ignominy of playing Howard the Duck, a movie I saw in the theater, to my enduring shame.
It’s on DVD and definitely worth a rental; dismiss your hatred of Colin Farrell, he’s thrown away the cap and shaved his stubble, and his eyebrows might win an Academy Award here. This is his best role yet. If you won’t take my word for it, Ebert’s review is more detailed and even more gushing.