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3 reviews, 17 user ratings

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In Bruges
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Blood, Guts, Bullets and Belgians"
4 stars

Because it tells a story about a pair of hit men with a shared gift for gab and includes colorful dialogue, jet-black comedy, shocking violence, quirky supporting characters and a narrative that makes any number of unexpected twists, turns and detours, many of those who see the new film “In Bruges” are likely to find themselves comparing it to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” The downside to such comparisons, of course, is that there have been any number of films in the last 14 years that have attempted to recapture the spirit of that enormously influential work by utilizing those very same ingredients and while some of them have turned to be entertaining enough pastiches (I remain a committed fan of Doug Liman’s wonderful “Go” and Guy Ritchie’s first two features, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”), the vast majority of them have been irritating, foul-mouthed and self-consciously “edgy” disasters along the lines of “Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead,” “Lucky Number Slevin” and “Smokin Aces.” It would be a shame if “In Bruges” wound up getting lumped in with these lesser efforts because while it does share many of the same elements, it actually makes an effort to do something fresh and interesting with them instead of simply tossing them into the mix because they worked in the past for others. It may be a Tarantino knock-off in the end but it is one of the most entertaining Tarantino knock-offs that I can recall seeing.

The film stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as a mismatched pair of London-based hit men–Ken (Gleeson) is the veteran who knows all the angles and goes about his work with a quiet sense of professionalism while Ray (Farrell) is the green newcomer that Ken has taken under his wing. As the film opens, we learn that their last job–Ray’s first–did not go exactly as planned and they have sent out of town by their crime lord boss (whose identity shall remain a secret in these pages, though I am sure that plenty of other people will be willing to spoil a nice surprise) to the small Belgian tourist town of Bruges to go sightseeing while waiting for further instructions after things cool down back home. This is not the hot-headed Ray’s idea of a good time at all (“If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress mem but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”), especially since he is emotionally torn up over what happened during that fateful hit, but he eventually finds an intriguing distraction when he stumbles upon the set of a weird-looking student film, complete with a midget in the lead role, and meets Chloe (Clemence Poesy), a comely local girl with a couple of secrets. Speaking of secrets, Ken is carrying around a big one of his own–while Ray has been out gallivanting with Chloe, he has finally been in contact with the boss and has discovered the real reason for their trip to Bruges.

If you are an attentive moviegoer, you can probably guess early on as to why Ken and Ray have been sent to Bruges and writer-director Martin McDonagh (an Irish playwright who is making his feature debut after making last year’s Oscar-winning short film “Six Shooter”) is smart enough to realize that. Instead of sticking with this basic plot and trying to stretch it out into an entire film, he deploys that particular twist fr earlier in the proceedings and thereby frees his story to go off in any number of unexpected directions. For example, we are allowed to get a fuller sense of the guilt and remorse that Ray feels for what he has done and the sense of betrayal that Ken feels at what he has been asked to do and by allowing us to delve deeper into these characters, their actions in the final act feel as if they come from the heart and not from the mechanics of the screenplay. The other advantage is that it frees the film to go off on any number of amusingly oddball tangents–there is an especially funny sequence in which the aforementioned dwarf turns up in a drug haze to clumsily advocate a race war that he hasn’t quite thought all the way through and while it doesn’t really push the story forward in any significant way, I can’t imagine the film without it. McDonagh’s screenplay is filled with moments like that and it is amazing to see how he is able to juggle the weirdo humor, the serious dramatics and the bloody action in a way that never feels forced and which never allows one approach to dominate the proceedings.

Helping to maintain that balance are the strong central performances from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Taken separately, their work here is highly impressive–Farrell nails the quicksilver mood changes of his character and turns in one of the strongest turns of his career and Gleeson, while having the less overtly flashy role, anchors the entire story with the kind of grave and quiet demeanor that says more than mere words ever could. However, as good as they are on their own, they are even better when they are playing off of each other–the two are perfectly in sync with each other right from the start and their double act is alternately hilarious and strangely touching to behold. Among the supporting performances, I especially liked the work done by Clemence Poesy, whom you may remember as the French schoolgirl that set all of Hogwarts aflutter in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” as Chloe–she sets off some real sparks with Farrell and I can’t wait to see her in further films. Then there is the aforementioned turn from the performer who shall not be named (though I suppose you could always look it up on IMDB) as the largely unseen boss–even though the actor in question is never actually seen until the final act, he creates such a vivid impression that we immediately grasp the enormity of the situation that Ray and Ken have found themselves in and just how risky their subsequent actions truly are.

“In Bruges” is not without its flaws–some of the dialogue exchanges flirt a little too close to pointless homophobia and the resolution to the plot thread involving the midget may have sounded good in theory but doesn’t quite come off in practice. However, it contains so many wonderful moments that I am more than willing to forgive the occasional hiccups. I’m thinking of the first date between Ray and Chloe that begins with bizarre dialogue and ends with even-more-bizarre violence. I’m thinking of the encounter between Ray and a heavy-set tourist. I’m thinking of Ken’s final climb up the stairs. Finally, I’m thinking of the part where Ray stumbles across that film set and gets a load of the star of the scene–the line of dialogue that he speaks is so unexpectedly funny and so brilliantly delivered that I confidently predict that it will become the new “I drink your milkshake!” among film hipsters.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16864&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/08/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/17/18 brian Wish they hadn't telegraphed the ending a half-hour early, but yeah, good movie. 4 stars
4/19/18 Suzanne Really really black comedy 3 stars
1/12/13 RestlessRoger excellent black comedy. Similarities to Fargo 5 stars
12/28/11 Fazon Sheriff Good film but Bruges has nothing on limerick 5 stars
10/18/11 Magic Both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. One of the best scripts of 2008. 5 stars
12/17/09 Kiwiboy Retarded movie w silly jokes & hackneyed stereotypes. 1 stars
8/29/09 Simon Quirky weird little film,but it's wittily acted and beautifully shot,cant help but like it 4 stars
7/18/09 michael mann this sucks, there is no plot, WTF was this film about anyway 1 stars
10/27/08 Michael M Sold as a comedy; but it's the drama and moments of seriousness that make this film great. 4 stars
7/29/08 Marty McFly Funniest flick I have seen in years 5 stars
6/28/08 Servo Midgets! Very funny and unexpectedly gory. Oh, and midgets!!! 4 stars
3/04/08 zanna Cocaine and midget jokes? Please, been there, done that. 3 stars
3/03/08 Anthel I quite enjoyed it until the last 15 minutes, at which point I hurled. 3 stars
3/02/08 Ole Man Bourbon Liked it. Good cast, interesting town. 4 stars
2/13/08 Ming I like this film..it's a little nuttie and fun 4 stars
2/11/08 Darren Shea A witty, funny spin on the crime movie sub-genre. Gleeson and Farrell are a good team. 4 stars
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  08-Feb-2008 (R)
  DVD: 24-Jun-2008



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