In Bruges is the second 2008 film that I've just discovered. Like The Visitor, it has left me wondering why it didn't share the Oscar hype for that year.
It is an exceptionally fine film.
Because of the subject matter, it is not a movie for the faint of heart. It contains almost as much bad language as The Big Lebowski (2005), along with graphic sex, murder, and drug use.
That being said, the acting is superb and the script brilliant. In terms of characterization, off-the-wall humor, and deep insight into human behavior, In Bruges is right up there with the best of the Cohen Brothers.
Any review of this movie coming this soon after its release, (February 2008), must stay away from the storyline. It would be a shame to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it.
The plot unfolds with a series of surprises, any one of which in an ordinary cookie-cutter script would lead to the final resolution, but which in this movie pull us deeper into the story.
The story is set against the medieval Old City of Bruges, beautiful in the eyes of Ken (Brendan Gleeson), but a "shit-hole" to Ray (Colin Farrell). Adding to the other-worldly feeling of the city, a symbolic movie is being filmed in the main square. The lives of a production assistant and one of the actors intersect with those of Ken and Ray.
The lovely Chloë (Clémence Poésy) allows Ray to pick her up for what he expects to be a romantic evening, but which turns into a robbery attempt by her ex-boyfriend Eirik (Jérémie Renier).
Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), a little person featured in various dream sequences in the movie-within-the movie, becomes an object of fascination to Ray.
Even the actors with minor roles, except maybe the boat driver (Jamie Edgell), who just sits there, contribute memorable performances:
. . . Ralph Fiennes as Harry, Ken and Ray's employer. Until the last segment of the film, he is only a voice on the telephone.
. . . Thekla Reuten as Marie, the pregnant owner of the hotel in which Ken and Ray stay while waiting for their orders from Harry.
. . . Rudy Blomme as the rule-enforcing ticket seller at the Bell Tower.
. . . Mark Donovan, Emily Thorling, and Ann Elsley as the overweight American tourists.
. . . Ran Yaniv, the barman who casts googly eyes at Ken.
. . . Eric Godon as Yuri, the arms supplier who sees into the minds of his customers.
. . . Anna Madeley as Denise, a Dutch prostitute picked up by Jimmy. She's brought her business to Bruges because there's so much competition in Amsterdam.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges won a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. Colin Farrell, as Ray, won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. Brendan Gleeson deserved it just as much.
Like many of the Cohen films, In Bruges owes more to medieval morality tale than to modern realism. For example, one wonders what the Belgian police are doing as Harry pursues Ray through streets crowded with Christmas strollers.
In general I disapprove of films that depict bad people in a positive light. By "bad people" I mean people who do bad things.
Harry, Ken, and Ray are professional killers. In terms of Christian morality, all three deserve to go to Hell. Nevertheless, the three men are shown to be principled in their own way. Perhaps the most striking thng about this movie is that the characters never lie to save themselves. Whatever the perceived consequences, they say what they mean, and they demand the same standard of behavior of themselves as they do of others.