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Non-Review Review: In Bruges

Possibly one of the best depictions of Irish humour that I’ve seen captured in celluloid, In Bruges is a fascinating little story of honour, loyalty, stupidity and a small little town in Belgium. The movie was a highlight in the very solid pantheon of 2008. Featuring a sharp script, a fantastic cast and some really lovely scenery, the movie stabnds as one of the best comedies I’ve seen in yonks. And a yonk is a long time.

bruges

Irish charm...

The plot of the movie – admittedly indebted to Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter – sees two hitmen in purgatory Bruges laying low after a job. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell have surprisingly strong chemistry as the two tourists in the strange little Belgian town, waiting for orders that may never come. For the more mature and grounded of the two, Ken, it’s a lovely opportunity to see all the sights and take all the tours. For Ray, it’s a boring back-water town he’s never heard of.

The film cleverly builds itself around character. The two hitmen are brilliantly realised by their actors, with brendan Gleeson demonstrating once again that he is among ireland’s most underappreciated exports and Farrell reminding us (after a string of less-than-impressive roles) that he is an actor of some skill. The third wheel – so to speak – is provided by Ralph Fiennes (with a gruff accent) as Harold, their quite profine boss. Though he is only tangentally present for the movie’s first half (through a fantastically vulgar message left with the hotel receptionist), he manages to produce an equally well-realised character in his limitted screentime.

Martin McDonagh, who serves as both director and writer, demonstrates his fantastic capacity as a wordsmith in the dialogue, which (despite all the distinct dialects used by the characters) never seems forced or out of order. there’s a stunning amount of ironic echoing and foreshadowing peppered throughout the film, amid all the fantastic random associations made by the immature Ray. It’s to the credit of both the writer and Farrell himself that we come to see Ray, despite all his flaws (and – even if exclude the one big sin that the movie presents us with – there are a lot of them: he’s racist, aggressive, condescending, self-righteous, insulting, and many more), as a sympathetic or almost tragic figure. We almost don’t blame him for the way he is or the actions he has committed. In short, we see in Ray what Ken sees Ray. That’s no small accomplishment.

Bruges is the real star of the proceedings, though, and offers the main reason why the climax of the film works so well. Reportedly the city itself was less than pleased with the portayal in the film, but – though I can understand why they might be displeased with certain elements – I think that they miss the point. The film is, despite the harsh humour of all the characters (including Harold, who is the most fond of it), overwhelmingly romantic about the town. Though Ken may be mocking his boss when he refers to it as something out of a “fairytale”, the film clearly supports that view. It’s a town that is almost magical in a way, offering love, hope, possibly redemption and even peace.

Well, either that or it’s purgatory. It’s the place you go, to quote Ray, if “you weren’t really sh*t, but you weren’t all that great either”. To Ray, Bruges is limbo. There’s nothing happening – good or bad. You just sit there and wait for judgement from up on high. And you can’t escape that final judgement, whatever it may be, no matter how hard you try. Maybe it is purgatory for all the characters present in the film – just a place for them to pass through before moving on. Or maybe, as Harry suggests to Ken, Bruges is something nice for Ray to experience – and, by extension, something nice for all the characters to experience. A fleeting moment of paradise. Ken does get to touch the blood of Christ, after all.

Or maybe Bruges is just Bruges, a visually stunning little town that is somehow better than these three blow-ins with their guns and their crassness. Maybe none of the three appreciate the city for the beauty that it really is. Or maybe I’m just rambling.

There’s no way to recommend this skewed black comedy enough. It features fantastic performances, a very Irish sense of humour and some fantastic scenery. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve no excuse not to.

3 Responses

  1. yeah, its a great show, i would pay to watch Brendan Gleeson read the phone book, in fairness

  2. I totally love this movie and did from the first time I saw it in the cinema when not much was said about it at all. Really enjoyed your review.

  3. One of my favourite cities and a fantastic Non-Review!

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