Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy
Director: Martin McDonagh
Runtime: 107 min.
Genre: Crime, Comedy, Drama
Why would killing a child be considered a greater sin than any other act, say for instance killing a man? Is it because they’re little and innocent and defenseless, or is it because they’re young and haven’t seen enough of their world? If it is the latter, who would be arrogant enough to decide who has had enough, for none but few in this world feel they’ve experienced it all. And if it is the former, well, there ought not to be much difference between a seven year-old and a dwarf. I think In Bruges hasn’t been able to make its mind up, it believes everything is wrong and in that confusion lay its immense weight. For some odd reason, Gone Baby Gone comes to mind.
Bruges is this town in Belgium. As everybody, I’ve always dreamt of bag-packing my way through the length and breadth of Europe. Not through agencies and definitely not chained by a schedule, but just collect enough funds, pack my bags and off on my way. Bruges was an obscure name that turned up a few times when I would research in frenzy, a place known for its medieval architecture with its churches and its famous Basilica of the Holy Blood, something like Florence. In Bruges has done something that quite few films are ambitious enough to portray, and that is to shed such light on a city that jumps it to the top of the must-travel list. It has done that for quite a few folks now, and that includes Roger Ebert and me. And yes, these two Irish hitmen as well, Ray and Ken, who after having disposed of two bodies have been asked to cool their heels in this town they have never heard of.
Ray and Ken, played by Farrell and Gleeson respectively, are the standard partners in crime one usually comes across. Ken is the guy with a smart cool brain on his shoulders, and he has that air about him that usually thinks and weighs out all options before unsettling itself. He also considers it extremely beneficial for his well being to do as he’s told. The kind of employee whom experience and time has eroded into a fine round smooth nonchalant pebble. Ken loves history and has seemingly lost himself in the heritage of this town within no time. Ray, on the other hand, is the restless kind. He hates history and he hates Bruges and considers it, in his own words, a shit-hole. He hates Americans, and part of the reason is because they killed John Lennon. He is conscious of their films though, and he seems to be aware of most of the midgets who have appeared in them. And there’s a tragedy, something deeply grieving, which is eating from within. Something so powerful the mere mention of which brings this tough guy to tears. And believe me, these guys are tough. Is it a remnant deep from his past, is it from his last job, I’ll leave you to discover. It is because this film is as much an achievement in construction of plot as it is in development of character. The two go hand in hand, and as in the best of films, each supplies the other with fodder.
There’s their boss Harry, as foul mouthed a gangster there has ever been in cinema, and that includes Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan (Sexy Beast). He’s an Englishmen, and the great thing about him is his integrity. His adherence to his principles and values. In fact, all the three gangsters are men of word, men of honor. Ray meets a Belgian girl and promises to tell her the truth about what he does if she agrees on dinner. She does, and he tells her without no fuss. This film has been marketed as a comedy, I believe, and upto an extent it is. What fascinates though is how much of it transpires as dialogues, frank conversations devoid of melodrama with nothing concealed within the heart, between actual people who happen to know each other dearly. Two key characters at the climax stand in a hotel – one in the room upstairs and one below – and between them on the staircase stands the owner, a pregnant woman who also happens to be brave. None of them are heartless to let the predicament of their lives cause even the slightest of harm to the lady, and they’re more than willing to maintain the status quo for the rest of the night. They promise each other to exit the hotel through other ways, and leave the lady safe. And they do so. No back-stabbing. And that is what derives much of the humor, which to me feels quite odd. Treachery and lies and deceit make for drama, and truth and honesty and integrity make for comedy.
The director and writer here is Martin McDonagh, a playwright much respected in the United Kingdom, and this is his first feature film. The emphasis on character above all else pretty much tells us his roots, and his dialogues are some of the best in years. With most well-scripted films, the dialogues either seem to be catering to the genre or to the director, rather than to the character. Here, they always stay true to the person speaking them and thus they traverse genres with such fluidity it is often hilariously funny and tragically heartbreaking at the same time. Ray and Ken sit together discussing a lolly-pop man and I was caught stranded between laughing and feeling sad. I’m not sure I have seen any other film like this in recent times. Michael Clayton sure does come to mind. But I’m sure we have the first major contender for this year’s awards season and the year’s top ten lists.
Colin Farrell gets his best role and he gives his best performance in ages. Gone is the chip on the shoulder that was sticking out so sorely in Miami Vice, and what we see is a true actor. Gleeson doesn’t have the high and mighty aura of a Morgan Freeman, nor does he have the authority of a Sydney Pollack, but in his own nonchalant way he brings to the film the same cumulative effect. And he doesn’t even seem to try. There’s an everyman quality that Gleeson’s plump and chummy face brings to the bad guy role that is priceless. Then there’s one of our greatest actors, Ralph Fiennes, and he has the heartless hard-boiled character on him. Watch him and how his character unfolds. Fiennes inherently doesn’t look deceitful, and I think we always believe him. I wonder if there was the need for the film to end as it does, to show the truth of the man, since we never doubted him in the first place.
One of the great tragedies of the film I think is that Ray still believes he hates Bruges at the end. Often I wonder what hell is. Other than the usual, you know, eternal damnation and roasting in flames stuff. What is hell supposed to mean? I have found various meanings for myself at various stages of my short life, but I think the one that terrified me miles beyond terror is snatching from someone a cherished world they have just began to love and yet to live. I think that notion of hell haunts me, that abrupt end, where you don’t even have enough time to kiss farewell to that world. And then, you’re left to live with that horror of what could have been for eternity.