Saturday, 26 January 2019

In Bruges

I'm not sure how I've failed to see this excellent film for over a decade, but I have! This 2008 creation by writer, producer, director Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Seven Psychopaths) is an overlooked peach of a film.

Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Phone Booth, Minority Report) and Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, Mission: Impossible II, The Treaty) play two hitmen who, at the outset of the film arrive in Bruges. They have been sent there by their boss but are not really sure why, except to lie low and let the dust settle after a recent hit went wrong! Gleeson's character Ken is the more senior of the two and is happy to trust that they will be told all in good time and until then, to sit tight.

The younger character Ray, played by Farrell, is impatient and can't abide the thought of sitting there, for what turns out to be 2 weeks, for what appears to be, no reason. Ken tries to engage Ray in enjoying the historic sights and delights of the city, but Ray is not interested, more keen to pick up the local talent and get wasted.

As more of the background opens up, it's clear that all is not what it seems, the boss does indeed have a specific purpose for the two employees, but that it might not be quite what is expected. Ralph Fiennes (Red Dragon, Schindler's List, The English Patient) plays the cockney-confident boss initially from his home in London with mad menace. He portrays the principled but uncontrolled man who tears his hair out at the expense of all around him in order to manage the situation in Bruges and eventually ends up there too, trying to sort out the mess created by the two hitmen.

As you'd expect, Fiennes excels in the role, convincing and demonic in many ways, as always playing the bad guy with expert ease. But this film is much more about the two hitmen reaching crossroads' in their lives, taking stock, working out values and what's important in the scheme of things. As Ray is haunted by the outcome of the hit that went wrong, he takes centre stage at the expense of all around him. He's falling apart bit by bit, hating himself. The two actors play off each other beautifully, with genius timing, dialogue, juxtaposition and humour. Ken is portrayed as a thinking father-figure to Ray, which changes his world view, and he really wasn't expecting that when he arrived in the city.

The supporting actors around the main leads are interesting and well developed in their short screen time, especially the French actress Clémence Poésy (The Tunnel, Harry Potter) who plays the one-night-stand with a twist! The setting is mostly out in the medieval streets of Bruges (where there is also a film crew shooting, weaved into our tale) which forms a delightful backdrop to this story which leaps between comedy and character-study to gore and thriller. There are twists and turns as we go and the director keeps us on our toes as it unfolds.

It's an excellent film which you must see, if for nothing else, the central two roles as they delightfully command the screen and keep the viewer captivated. The coarse language is not for the lily-livered. Highly recommended.

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