So I just saw In Bruges for the first time. It came out in 2008 and I very much wanted to see it then, but I was busy being in college and pretty much only made time for superhero movies and the occasional drama from Spain in which an imaginary monster takes out his eyes. (Yes I saw Pan’s Labyrinth, no I don’t remember what it was about, and no I don’t want to see it again.) I’ve been meaning to rent it ever since but never did, but now I have Netflix(!!!) and it was the first movie I added to my queue.
For those not in the know, In Bruges is a film from the U.K. by Martin McDonagh starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. (It is pronounced “Rafe.” I know right?!) Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hit men and Ralph Fiennes is their perhaps-somewhat-overemotional boss. At the outset, Farrell and Gleeson have just completed a hit and are hiding out in Bruges awaiting further instructions from Fiennes. The vibe is sort of Boondock Saints-meets-every British movie you’ve ever seen, by which I mean it is violent with rather snappy dialogue (it is an extremely dark comedy) and lovable killers (a trope I am starting to find uncomfortable), but also very British in aesthetic: understated, not a lot of flashy editing, small cast, minimal sets, obviously small budget but not so much so that you think it’s a BBC production. It’s a fun aesthetic, especially if you love both Boondock Saints-y films and small-but-not-BBC-small British films, which I do.
Colin Farrell is an excellent actor, and if he’d pull his dick out of models more often I’d be able to remember it better. I vaguely recall thinking quite highly of him at the beginning of his career and then basically wondering where he’d gone. (Answer: to fuck the models that I only assume are lined up three deep at his door at all times.) He has incredible emotional range, which is demonstrated beautifully within this film. I’m often turned off by and skeptical of actors who do one thing well (see: Gabourey Sidibe in Precious), and I bring that up because it’s the exact opposite of Farrell’s performance here. Brendan Gleeson, who you probably know best as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films, is lovely as well; I saw him most recently at Tribeca Film Festival in The Guard, a film by McDonagh’s brother John Michael, in which he plays a character similar to this one in temperament and arc if not in personal history. Ralph Fiennes is great, of course – very funny here, not a side of him that often gets shown – and all the bit players hold up their ends well. (For the record, the Harry Potter count in this movie is four. Actors Equity in Britain, or whatever they have, should send J.K. Rowling a giant thank-you card for employing every single working actor in Britain intermittently for a decade.)
My one complaint with this film is the pacing. It’s reasonably short, so this doesn’t necessarily make sense, but the first hour or so feels somewhat rambly. I’m not sure how that could be fixed, and I don’t think it’s a problem, exactly. The best way I can describe it is that until the last half hour or so, the film was a solid 3 out of 5 for me, and the last half hour is what bumped it up due to a combination of sharper, funnier writing and more engrossing plotting. I comfortably recommend this film if you are into this particular style. If you’re not, I don’t know how well it would work for you.
This film does not pass the Bechdel Test, although it does contain two named women who are important to the plot and very cool in their own right. One in particular is fully formed and not at all dependent on male characters for her forward advancement or relevance. I love her. It is sad that I am having to make note of those elements of her character.
So the lovable killers thing. As my life has progressed, I have come to know a variety of people who have lots of experience with lots of different kinds of guns. One of the primary ways I have become acquainted with their knowledge is through in-depth discussions of how inaccurate gun violence in movies is. Long story short, it’s more like Hanna and The Town and less like Takers and every other heist movie you’ve ever seen – that is, it’s incredibly fast, extremely brutal, and very difficult to fuck up unless you Plaxico Burress your own damn leg. (Cracked actually has an excellent article on the matter.) Basically, the dude with the gun makes the rules and enforces them immediately on your now-dead face to a degree that movies like to pretend isn’t true. Having had this drummed into my head over literally dozens of conversations has made it somewhat harder for me to suspend my disbelief about shooting people. I mean, listen, I saw Boondock Saints. I loved Boondock Saints. I want to have lots of sex with both McManus brothers, singly or jointly. I am not immune, and I’m not on my high horse. Just, the more I learn about guns and how very very much they make people dead to a degree that was not previously clear, the more I develop a vague uncomfortableness around the lovable killers trope.
In Bruges 3.5 out 5 stars (I rounded to a 4 on Netflix. The lack of half-stars is very frustrating.)