Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In Bruges

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008) First off, the title may be mis-leading as it's missing a word. By rights, and by its constant usage in the film, the movie should be called In Fooking Bruges, as that's the way the picturesque "fairy-tale town" in Belgium is usually adjectived in the film. In (implied Fooking) Bruges is rated "R" for "Strong Bloody Violence, Pervasive Language and Drug Use." Not much of the latter, but large quantities of beer are consumed. The language is pervasive (love that term), but it is also numbing in that, after awhile, it stops being shocking and the repetitiveness becomes part of the joke.* And the violence is strong and upsetting—blood flies in large gouts, and there is a lot of perforation going on, followed by blood spatter. I mention all this as a warning for the faint-of-heart going in, because I'm going to be saying this is a great, funny film with a lot of heart—bloody, throbbing and gooey—and cold-bloodiness, and anybody thinking they're going to be seeing, say, Dr. Strangelove, are going to be upset at the carnage. But that blood-letting is necessary for the very reason that In Bruges is making note of how fragile we all are. We break. We bleed. We suffer. We sacrifice. We put ourselves through Hell on Earth. Which on bad days, and bad vacations, can look like fooking Bruges.
Ray and Kenny (Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson) are two Irish hit-men who are on holiday, of a sorts. Actually, they're laying low after Ray's first "hit"—the assassination of a priest (CiarĂ¡n Hinds in a cameo)—also manages to kill a child. It's Ray's first job for Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) and he's botched it. Badly. The best for them is to get out of town for two weeks until the furor dies down. So, they're sent to Belgium, specifically to Bruges—"the most preserved city in Europe"—to get lost in the Christmas tourist season. "It's a shit-hole," says Ray, still reeling guiltily. He hates it. In fact, he'd probably hate any place on Earth in his state of mind, except the one place he cannot go. For Ray, Bruges is worse than Hell. Kenny is enjoying the sight-seeing and fascinated by the antiquity of the place and keeps trying to interest Ray in the city, calling him the "worst tourist in the world." "Ken," replies Ray. "I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't.
And that, there, is why I fell in love with this film. The rough language that has a rhythm and groove, and feels like it's falling out of the minds of Farrell and Gleeson and Fiennes in unfiltered stanzas. It's Mamet with a lilt (especially in Farrell's hands). It's a comic flow that when these three ace actors toss in their syncopated pauses it maximizes the laugh factor exponentially. Sentences build and explode in beated punch-lines that flow naturally from the material. It's coarse and brutal, but behind the words are human feelings of desperate men. Ray is badly shaken up by the death of that child. It haunts him, keeps him awake at night and makes him fear for his soul. He drinks to deaden the pain. Ken, the veteran, has been at it awhile, owing a debt to Harry Waters from the past and is loyal to a fault. And Harry is a vicious gangster who loves his family and lives unswervingly by a precise code of honor. These are bad men with silver linings of virtue tucked away where no one can hurt them. In their own ways, they are romantics. Homicidal romantics, maybe. But, then, that's the work.
Steeped in quirky characters, and nearly prat-falling over itself with implied comedy, In Bruges manages to do something unique in the post-Tarantino action revolution of stylization, and pervasive...everything—it manages to have soul, a caring one, at that, where actions have consequences that don't get lost in the final reel amidst the carnage and wise-cracks.
"Drop the gun...or else...I shoot."

* And, as in the film Once, there is something about the word spoken with an Irish accent that makes it less harsh and far more charming, like the name of a seaside Gaelic town.

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