Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Normal Gun for a Normal Person

Since he first emerged, Colin Farrell has taken part in a number of very ambitious films several of which, through no fault of his own, failed to live up to expectations either creatively or commercially. These disappointments were directed by people with names like Spielberg, Stone, Towne, Mann, Malick and most recently Woody Allen. I can’t blame him for taking any of these parts for the opportunity to work with these people but something obviously wasn’t clicking. With IN BRUGES, it’s safe to say that he has now lived up to his potential. With a trailer that tries to sell it as a Guy Ritchie wannabe, the film could be described as what a Guy Ritchie film would be like if the director chilled out on the flash and concentrated on things like story, characterization and depth. You know, the things in films that actually matter. But instead of comparing it to Ritchie, it’s probably best to address IN BRUGES on its own and appreciate the totally unexpected surprise it really is.

When a job goes unexpectedly wrong, Irish hitmen Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to Bruges (“Where’s that?” “It’s in Belgium.”) to lay low for a few weeks and wait for the word that it’s safe to return. Ray is immediately extremely bored in the place but this is soon revealed to be a mask for his enormous guilt over the unexpected consequences of the job they just pulled off. Ken, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to appreciate their surroundings, enjoying the opportunity to relax. As the two men begin to wander the city sightseeing, certain unexpected events occur.

Written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh, whose first film this is, it’s one of the numerous pleasures of IN BRUGES that even the unexpected developments aren’t what we would expect from unexpected developments. It’s never a gimmick of ‘tourists vs. locals’ and characters throughout, even down to bit parts are usually different that you would expect them to be. All three of the leads are continually doing things that are surprising, adding different shadings to their characters. What winds up occurring is a story that becomes hilariously, darkly funny and also emotionally involving to a very surprising degree. There’s an enormously tricky balancing act of tone that the film is trying to pull off and it’s a constant pleasure to discover how much it succeeds. I’m not familiar with McDonagh’s work before now, but he’s delivered a film which is rich in dialogue, as would be expected from a playwright, yet never less than thrillingly cinematic. I look forward to seeing anything that he tries next.

The good news is that the trailer doesn’t give away much of what IN BRUGES really is. The bad news is that the studio seems genuinely determined to sell it as something that it’s not. Even the stills that are out there seem to mostly display Farrell and Gleeson with big, goofy grins on their faces as if the film was some giant lark. Sorry, that’s not what it is, not by a long shot and the laughs that do come are usually not when the characters are smiling. Farrell, as I’ve already indicated, gives the best performance of his career, one that is darkly funny and surprisingly soulful with torment in his eyes that remains even when his character isn’t acting depressed. Gleeson, no surprise, is fantastic as the more thoughtful of the pair. Fiennes, who doesn’t appear in the flesh until very deep into the narrative, gets huge laughs from his very first appearance but is never allowed to become less than completely menacing, even when his character is acting strangely likable. Among the smaller roles in the film, which on the whole is extremely well-cast, some of the standouts are Clémence Poésy as a local girl Farrell takes an interest in, Jordan Prentice as a dwarf acting in a film shooting nearby, and Thekla Reuten as the pregnant owner of the bed-and-breakfast the hitmen are staying in. And the city of Bruges is allowed to become a character as well and it’s a true example of why the location of where a film is shot, which really is a crucial part of its DNA, is sometimes as important as anything. It’s one of many elements that help make the film feel unique.

I’ve been light on some of the details, but that’s because nobody’s seen this yet and they deserve to be as surprised by some of what happens as I was. I went to see IN BRUGES mostly because of some of the people involved but I had very few expectations about what was in store for me. What I got was not just better than what I expected, it was more than what I expected. It’s a movie with a soul.

1 comment:

Martin Kevorkian said...

a brilliant and prescient appreciation.