Sunday, March 1, 2009

Movie Monday No. 7 - In Bruges

Well, here's starting off a new month with a new review. Let's see if I can start another streak of updating them on or near Monday (the previous record was 5 weeks straight). The problem I had in February ended up being that I am came down with a nasty cold and didn't get out much and didn't feel like doing much of anything, even Movie Monday. Well, that's about to change. So here for your reading pleasure (or displeasure, as the case may be), is a review of 2007's twisted, un-P.C. drama/thriller In Bruges.

"What’s a f**king fifty year-old Chinese lollipop man doing with kung-fu?"
--Colin Farrell as Ray, In Bruges

Up until this film, I had yet to see a project that truly captured the agony that a first-time hitman might go through when his first job blows up in his face. It’s a theme that intrigues me and I’ve seen it attempted in other films, but never to the degree of success that Martin McDonagh has pulled off in his 2007 feature for Universal/Focus Features, In Bruges.

I came across this film at the local Lackluster (oh wait, did I say that? I meant Blockbuster) Video store in my hometown and realized that it was cheaper to buy the previously viewed copy for $3.99 than it was to rent the damn movie for $4.99. Since I’m a big fan of offbeat British humor, I thought this would be a good match for me. It was, but this film also packs an emotional wallop I was not prepared for.

In Bruges finds our two heroes Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) taking a few days off in the Belgium town of Bruges after Ray’s first hit went wrong. It’s not revealed in this early stage exactly what went wrong with it, but they’ve received orders from Harry (Ralph Fiennes), their boss, to sit tight and wait for him to call. After some very comedic sightseeing that gets Ray into more trouble than he bargained for (and reveals his peculiar fascination with midgets), Ray scores a date with a cute girl on a local film crew (who is of normal human size, I’d like to note).

When Ray’s off on his date, Ken gets the call from Harry, and it’s between these two points that we really learn what went wrong. Ray shot a priest, and as he stepped out of the confession booth blazing bullets, a bullet blew open the head of a five year-old boy who was praying because, as he had written in a note Ray finds in the boy’s hands, he was sad. Ken pulls him away before the cops arrive, and now Harry wants Ken to "whack" Ray. "Nobody does a kid and gets away with it," Harry says. "Nobody."

As to whether Ken offs Ray or doesn’t, I’ll leave that up to you to find out when you watch In Bruges. While I was watching it, the film seemed to take on three different shapes -- the hitman movie, the neo-noir movie, and the offbeat independent European comedy. This unique blend of these three genres, if you will, allows In Bruges to be something very unique -- not a hitman neo-noir European comedy (duh), but a very emotional film about what humans do when other humans screw up.

Take for example Colin Farrell’s character, Ray. He’s got the biggest screw-up of all -- he shot a kid by accident. In one of Farrell’s best pieces of acting so far in his career, he actually curls up into Ken’s arms and bawls for the death of the child’s life he so ruthlessly took. This scene solidified the theme of the film for me -- that no matter who we are, we must first own up to what is ours and what we’ve done. It’s a powerful, very human theme, disguised in trippy neo-noir coating.

The music and production design further go to isolate the characters into this surreal world they live in. Carter Burwell composed a masterful piano-led score that tapped into the sadness and desolate feeling of Bruges, along with highlighting the more colorful parts of the characters’ personalities. His chase music, for when Harry catches up to Ray, is also quite exemplary. The production design was done by Michael Carlin, who captures the natural colors and architecture of Bruges masterfully, and with good taste.

There are two drawbacks to In Bruges -- the excessive use of the "f" word and the gruesome detail they put into the gunfire wounds. I thought these two elements were a little unnecessary in order to get their point across; we don’t need to see a chunk of the five year-old’s head missing in order to know that he’s been shot. A little blood and a small hole would have sufficed. Plus, to emphasize how much language there was, a rather amusing (or appalling, depending on how you look at it) montage is included on the DVD in the bonus features of nothing but the instances of foul language used in the movie. While it made me laugh, it might make some of you more virgin-eared readers out there in cyberland shriek in dismay.

Overall, I’d have to say that In Bruges is a very different film -- not at all what it is advertised or hailed to be. I think it has at its core a very serious theme about your sins catching up to you, and that if you try to run, you only delay the inevitable. A pretty grim outlook, but one that matches the lives of criminals and hitmen that populate the world this movie takes place in.

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