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Movies: ‘In Bruges’ goes mainstream in America

By Sam Potter

“In Bruges”Focus FeaturesWritten and directed by Martin McDonagh

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph FiennesRated R/107 minutes3 stars

Who can forget family vacations? Those great, epic events when emotions run high and attempts to find a place that everyone can enjoy seem more difficult than rocket science. Some just want to find a place to unwind, free from the pressures of school and work. Others want to see new things, explore historical sites and fill their days with a rigorous itinerary. Others simply want to have some fun and get some restlessness out of their systems.

Hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) find themselves in a similar situation, albeit involuntarily. Ray is a newcomer to the profession and, after botching his first job, he and Ken are ordered by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to head out to the quaint, medieval town of Bruges, Belgium, to cool their heels until Harry can sort out the situation. Ken is the father figure, the old pro, carrying himself with dignity and respect while attempting to mask a life of regret and sorrow. Ray is the high-strung teenager, full of piss and vinegar, and a million smart-assed remarks. Bruges is famous for being the only remaining European medieval town that has been entirely preserved. Ken falls in love with the place and enjoys the opportunity to take in his surroundings. Ray can’t stand the place and is nervous about what exactly will happen to him because of his mistake.

Filmmaker Martin McDonagh got his start on the stage. A renowned playwright, he turned his darkly comedic voice toward the cinematic world, resulting in his Oscar-winning short film, 2005’s pitch-black “Six Shooter.” This film featured Gleeson in a similar role, playing straight man to a wiry Irish kid with a penchant for bluntness and violence. Although McDonaugh’s short was full of witty Irish banter and sleek visuals, the paper-thin story coupled with a tendency to be dark for little more than shock value made it seem a bit undeserving of the praise it received.

“In Bruges” is significantly better in all aspects. Ray and Ken are a hilarious pair, and a lot of the fun comes from watching how the two of them react to the city’s quiet rewards. Thankfully, McDonagh has much more of a story to tell this time, and the film slowly metamorphoses from a one-note fish-out-of-water comedy to include elements of crime thriller and redemptive drama. McDonagh manages to succeed in all of these aspects: We learn that Ray, in attempting to assassinate his first mark, accidentally murdered an innocent boy. He feels horrible about it and struggles to reconcile his existence. Ken shows compassion for him and struggles to help Ray escape a life for which he is obviously not cut out. When Harry comes a-knocking with a surprise for the two, things get considerably more dicey and hilarious.

This is Farrell’s best work to date. Although I’ve enjoyed the work he’s done in American films, he seems right at home as a scruffy Dubliner. Ray is pathetic and full of issues, but riotously fun at the same time. Gleeson is equally great. His stoic and world-weary old man serving as the anchor for a film whose zany humor could have easily fallen into the ridiculous. Fiennes racks up another nice performance as a menacing crime boss who, surprisingly, is not without his ethics. Harry is not the soulless golem of, say, Anton Chigurh in “No Country For Old Men.” When Harry comes after Ray who has holed himself up in his hotel room, he is confronted by the fiery female hotel owner, who also happens to be pregnant. Whereas Chigurh would have no qualms blasting her, Harry doesn’t have the heart. Killers with ethics are one of the ripest mines for comedic gold, and McDonagh understands this.

If there is any aspect of the film that seems to sag, it’s in the supporting players. The romance involving Ray and Clémence Poésy as a drug-dealer with a heart of gold seems a little thin and unbelievable, as do some of Ray and Ken’s trade-offs with a midget actor who is filming a movie in town. Still, these characters prove to be essential in a twisty and satisfying plot that manages to resolve well on a number of different levels. Although none of the characters seemed superfluous, some of the smaller parts could have been given a little more meat.

“In Bruges” is ultimately a refreshingly witty comedy with a good dose of heart and adrenaline.

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