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He prefers action to culture: Farrell, In Bruges.

Belgian Holiday


By Laura Leon

In Bruges

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Much of what works best in the playwright Martin McDonagh’s debut movie, In Bruges, is the repetitive patterning, with slight differences of inflection, of dialogue. Of course, it matters immensely that said dialogue comes in the lilting Irish brogues of stars Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Colin Farrell (Ray), who play a couple of hit men on orders by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to sightsee in the eponymous Belgian city after a hit gone horribly awry. At one point, Ken, who savors the opportunity to soak in the medieval mysteries of Hieronymus Bosch, instructs the stir-crazy Ray that they will attempt to strike a balance between culture and fun. Ray counters that, somehow, he believes that the balance will tilt toward culture. The pleasure is in the delivery, the pure love of language that distinguishes Irish writers.

“Why fucking Bruges?” Ray keeps asking. Indeed, this Belgian city, which is the oldest maintained example of medieval villages in existence, takes a lot of shots, notably later when Harry remarks how it’s really too bad, but possibly necessary, that Bruges has to be in a country nobody cares about. McDonagh’s stagy roots show clearly here, as Ray and Ken spend countless hours camped out in a hotel room, having contemplative discussions about the nature of their careers and the existence of Purgatory. Gleeson, as the older and presumably wiser of the two, subtly conveys a protective, almost fatherly concern for his flip, yet profoundly disturbed, underling, and the development of this relationship provides a poignant subtext for what follows. Just when things seem to be getting slow, Harry bursts onto the scene, and the deadly purpose of the Bruges tour is evident.

McDonagh still has plenty to learn about the differences between play- and moviemaking. Do Irish thugs really talk like this? The director-screenwriter hasn’t met a metaphor or bit of symbolism that he doesn’t grab on tightly to and thrust at us. Still, there’s a neat bit of six-degrees-of-separation percolating throughout, that gives a nice edge to the plot, and his allusions to classic noirs like Touch of Evil are appreciated. At best, In Bruges is an amusing, at times moving, trifle, but it’s three main performers give you so much to sink your teeth into. In particular, Farrell proves, as he did with Cassandra’s Dream, that he’s not just some dreamy matinee idol starring in a string of forgettable disasters, but an accomplished, if still maturing, character actor. It gives moviegoers something to hope for.

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