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Martin McDonagh's In Bruges is a black comedy in the form of a great Irish joke — or maybe it's the other way round. For a film involving three hit men, it's very jolly. I found plenty to laugh upon. "And he's lying there bleeding on the cobblestones, see, and he's saying to himself, with what little breath he has left, 'Maybe hell is like this. Maybe hell is like Bruges. I surely hope I don't die!' Hee hee!"
Perhaps In Bruges is really an infernal machine, a daringly brief — 107 minutes — narrative engine that whirs along, just this side of an explosion, fueled by the fast and tight performances of a handful of gifted pros. All the while paced as leisurely as you please.
The star of In Bruges is Colin Farrell's brand of Irish charm, which partakes equally of an extraordinary chimpishness (the actor's zygomatic muscles are clearly made of rubber cement) and an unabashed juvenility (beneath that eight-o'clock shadow, there's a five year-old who can't take his mind off what's going to happen "when your father gets home"). Somehow neither of these characteristics impedes the efforts of a sexually mature male to get lucky with the ladies — an undertaking with its own broad repertoire of facial expressions. Without its ever being the case that Mr Farrell's Ray says one thing but looks another, his visage does seem to lead a life that's independent of his brain. Perhaps it would be better to say that his brain annotates his face, not, as is the case for the rest of us, vice versa.
Ralph Fiennes's face is also a character unto itself. It bears only the faintest resemblance to well-known (if slightly neurasthenic) heartthrob of The English Patient and The White Countess. The face on view in this picture acts as though it once belonged to Ben Kingsley — the Ben Kingsley, say, of Sexy Beast. Mr Fiennes's Harry is someone you expect to dislike, a lot. But this is an Irish joke, remember? That makes Harry the humorless Brit. Mr Fiennes has done humorless before, but never half so comically.
As Ken, Ray's senior partner in crime, Brendan Gleeson rounds out the trio of principals by playing it straight. Ken is a likeable guy, especially considering his profession (hit man). Shipped off too Bruges to sit out the post-hit heat, Ken is ingenuously delighted by the old city, at first simply because it's a new cultural notch on his belt but later more deeply (and ironically). The prospect of spending two weeks immured in a comfortable canal-side hotel, with nothing to do but read, eat, and take in a bit of sightseeing, seems to have no downside for Ken. That it bores the much younger Ray to sobs is regrettable but understandable. Ken leads his apprentice to culture, but doesn't get angry that he won't drink.
Did I mention that the apprentice screwed up, back in England?
So much for talking about In Bruges; having already tried hard enough to avoid dropping the kind of hints that not dropping hints drops, I'm just going to drop it. But not without hailing a few of the other performers who make this film such a delight. First of all, there is the lovely Clémence Poésy, against whom one can complain only that she ought to have kept her birth name (Guichard, apparently; what's wrong with that? and how to the French respond to poésie?). Much as I hate reductive nutshells, Ms Poésy could be the European Claire Danes, if you know what I mean. As for Jordan Prentice, he is the new Peter Dinklage. Actually, he's quite different from the already-established dwarf*; for while Mr Dinklage almost makes you believe that it's not abnormal to be well under five feet tall, Mr Prentice appears to be a strapping quarterback who has been squeezed into a very small tube. Jérémie Renier and Zeljko Ivanek make the very most of nasty guys who don't get what's coming to them, and Eric Godon, as the arms supplier, Yuri, now owns the word "alcove." The grandest of all the supporting roles, though, is Thekla Reuten's hotelière, Marie. There is a sparkle in Ms Reuten's eye that made me wonder which force Marie is tempting more, fate or Mr McDonagh's penchant for disaster.
I do hope that In Bruges makes American tourists take a good, hard look at themselves. In the mirror. (March 2008)
* A glance at IMBb shows that Mr Prentice is not exactly a newcomer to film. Just to my kind of film.
Copyright (c) 2008 Pourover Press