Movie Reviews
1:34 pm
Sat February 23, 2008

In Bruges

It will send you to the Internet.

"The Venice of the North . . ." (Bruges tourist information)

I have been in Brussels and Amsterdam, and now thanks to Martin McDonagh's absurdist, existential, and comic film, I have been In Bruges. And, yes, thanks to the cinematography of Eigil Bryid, I am not only loving this European medieval city, with canals and glowing cathedrals, but I am also reminded of the dark shadows and intricate morality of the Third Man.

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are hit men waiting days, like players in Beckett or Pinter plays, for orders about their next hit. For Ken, it is a chance to tour a glorious ancient city; for Ray it's a chance not to do that but rather watch a Belgian movie being made about dwarves and hook up with the lovely girl who may supply drugs to the cast. Like two buddies from Patrice Leconte's Man on the Train, the boys couldn't be more different except for the deep well of feelings to emerge from an absurd situation.

Reluctant as I am to comment on acting, I must confess to being won over by Farrell's sympathetic portrayal of a man/boy haunted by his first hit. Nor does Gleeson's Ken suffer by comparison?he's tough but caring, willing to take a life or spare one. These guys are also straight out of David Mamet (think of Heist, Spartan, and House of Games)?amoral and thoughtful, rude and poetic: Ken urges Ray to climb a medieval tower to look at "the view"; Ray responds, "Why do I have to climb up there to see down here? I'm already here." Or when Ray says, "If I'd grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn't, so it doesn't." Perhaps Ralph Fiennes' Harry, the uber assassin, is more in the Mamet tradition with his repertoire of f-word variations.

I am as moved by the existential subtheme as I am by the gallows-humor of these lost souls. As in the Crying Game (in which there is also a skin head former boyfriend and arguable orientations in love and murder), being comfortable in the game of murder is not easy, especially for those who like people a bit too much to be in the business and are uncertain about their identities when it comes to life, love, and death.

If for nothing else, In Bruges will send you to the internet for the best travel deal to Belgium. For those who demand meaning married to story, this is a satisfying character study in the best European tradition. At the graveyard time of year for movies, I'm in heaven and Bruges is its name.