Movies We Like
In Bruges opened and closed here in the US without much notice. For all I know, it had a similar reception around the world. But for my money, it is one of the most interesting films 2008 has yet produced.
It begins simply enough, as a sort of fish-out-of-water buddy comedy with Ray (Colin Farrell), a streetwise Dubliner, suffering through his forced stay in Bruges with his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson). Ray cannot bear the "medieval fairytale land" that is Bruges; Ken cannot seem to get enough of the place, with its historic churches and picturesque canals.
Following the killing of a priest in England (Ray and Ken are hitmen), the pair are hiding out in Bruges at the request of their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). They're keeping a low-profile and generally trying to keep themselves sane in the sleepy tourist town. But what begins as a fun comedy of errors evolves into something much larger, as the characters develop from stereotypical tropes into full-fledged individuals, and the plot twists take the story into unexpected and thoroughly rewarding places. Much like a stage play (unsurprising, given writer-director Martin McDonagh's background as a playwright), In Bruges unfolds from a simple premise into a complicated ballet of dramatic irony and character study.
As you might expect from a playwright, In Bruges succeeds on the strength of its writing, but what makes it special is certainly the excitement with which McDonagh directs the film. Like the early work of directors from Spielberg to Tarantino, McDonagh's first film is the work of a man that seems to have wanted to make movies all of his life. Every beat and every shot is played out with plenty of consideration for what will tell the story best, but the whole thing is filled with the sort of intangible excitement that prevents it from feeling as stagey as you'd expect from a person so steeped in the theatre. Compared to David Mamet's 1987 debut House of Games, In Bruges leaps off the screen.
In the end, In Bruges is exactly the kind of movie you hope to find where you least expect it: fun and funny, but also dramatic and contemplative. It says something, but it isn't standing on a soapbox being dull about it. It's a good old-fashioned day at the movies, but like a play it wraps its story up into a neat little bow, leaving the audience asking nothing more than "who is the person that made this, and what exciting thing will he do next?"
In Bruges was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.