(United Kingdom, 2007, 101 min, color, 35mm)
Directed/written by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
Truly talented writers can form a jumble of words into a sonnet or a make a trip to the dentist seem exciting. Martin McDonagh could probably do both, but what he's really good at is making racism fun -- especially when it involves midgets.
If you're offended by the last sentence, you probably should be. But in McDonagh's latest work -- In Bruges -- nothing seems offensive. Even a racist midget. The film was selected to open the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and the committee seems to know what it was doing.
McDonagh earned an Oscar for his 2006 short film, Six Shooter. He doesn't venture far from his genre here with a skillfully mixed blend of violence and humor. But Pulp Fiction this is not. In Bruges is more of a caper film without the caper. There is violence, but not enough to turn the stomach. Instead, we're blessed with the downtime following the crime, and through McDonagh's eyes, it's actually very exciting.
We meet Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) on the first day in Bruges, a beautiful Belgian town that polarizes the odd couple. The two are hitmen fresh off a recent job, told to sit tight until new orders arrive. Ken, the older of the two, enjoys the gothic stylings of the city's architecture while Ray yearns for a beer, a woman and a way back to London.
What develops is a story surprisingly adept at touching a range of emotion. There are laughs packed into every scene, but the humor wraps something at the heart of McDonagh's script that stands out as more beautiful than the scenic backdrop of its title city.
When new orders finally come in, they aren't good for Ray. The pair's latest job took a tragic turn, which Ray is still trying to digest. His fate is left in Ken's hands. But neither hitman is a hardened criminal ready to bend to every will of his boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). The ensuing calamity is what happens when the pair begins to think about their decisions and deal with the strange, hilarious and tragic consequences.
It wouldn't be fair to McDonagh's script to divulge more. It's very clever and extremely tight, leaving no loose ends. While Gleeson and Farrell make an unlikely pair of hitmen, the chemistry between the two makes that initial puzzlement easy to forget. Gleeson could seemingly carry a film, and has worked with McDonagh before in Six Shooter. Farrell is a solid surprise here. Somewhere between SWAT and Alexander he hid some charisma and it shines perfectly here.
There are strong performances throughout, but what you should enjoy the most is Fiennes' portrayal of psychotic, yet oddly moral crime boss. He curses a lot, breaks phones and is frightening and funny at the same time. The cast isn't large, but the selections for those characters was dead on.
What the film is at its heart is a good story developed by an even better director. But don't be fooled into thinking this is another great shoot-'em-up to sit beside your collection of Reservoir Dogs and Layer Cake. It will feel like that, but in reality, you're getting something with a little more to it than just some jokes dropped between mindless violence.
That stuff is there, too. But it's just done better here, and as a bonus, you get to meet a racist midget. Now that takes talent.