Bruges. Where the hell is that? Is it real? Is it fake? Who knows. Well, Bruges is real. It’s a city in Belgium that looks kind of like a run down version of Venice and Amsterdam. But it turns out it’s a city full of surprise, midget actors, and very dark secrets. No, I’ve never been to any of those cities. But In Bruges is such an accurate portrayal, I might as well have been in the canal with them.
In In Bruges, the phrase “In Bruges” is used many times (mainly with “I’m” before it). Many times the person saying they’re in Bruges follows this statement with a question mark, and other times with an exclamation point. In this sense, the audience gets a feeling that you and the characters have no idea where they are, and where they are going.
The story focuses on a pair of two very different hitmen. There’s the Irish Ray (Colin Farrell), the young one with a bad temper but a huge conscience, and his partner is Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who seems to have much more control of himself and the situation.
The movie begins with a brief narration that informs us that Ray accidently shot an innocent boy while on the job in London. Ken and Ray’s boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a man who is soulless, controlling, yet principled, sends them to lay low in Bruges until the situation is sorted out. Little do they know that they’re actually on assignment.
Ray and Ken’s views on the city help define their characters. At first, Ray is resentful to the city and finds himself getting in fights with ignorant American tourists. Ken however, cannot get enough of the city’s Medieval sites. Ray’s views begin to change when he meets a beautiful woman on a movie set. Once the boss butts in, things go a little crazy.
Many buddy comedies are made, and most are basically the same formula with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions being In Bruges. Ray and Ken’s relationship works so well not only because of the plot surrounding them. It is also the actors that portray them.
Before this movie, I had no idea that Farrell could act but he does it perfectly here. He is able to become the character by showing him as an extremely hilarious screw-up yet at the same time a man of many emotions. And even when he screws things up, his facial expression never seems to change. Always that look as if he just wants to go to the pub and have a few beers. But then as the change finally occurs, Farrell plays him as such an emotional roller coaster that we can really connect with his complex feelings.
With Farrell and the combination of Gleeson, the buddy comedy aspect of the film shines. Maybe it is also in the fact of how utterly different these characters are from each other. It is almost difficult to tell whether they were even friends before they ended up in Bruges, or even while they are there.
Their strange relationship adds a lot of mystery to the film. And yes, there is much mystery surrounding it. Despite the hilarious parts of the film, it is also brutally violent, as well as a look at the existence of God, Heaven and Hell, and how to cope with guilt. In Bruges certainly gives you more to chew on then most comedies being released nowadays.
And that’s the thing about In Bruges, it’s not like most typical comedies nowadays. In fact, it’s not even like most typical films. It embraces the most brilliant aspects of storytelling in an absolutely perfect way. It contains storylines that don’t make sense at first but come together perfectly when connecting with another storyline. And in later parts of the movie, characters who disappear early on come back to impact the story or be part of a subtle background joke (ex: the fat American tourist). In a way, In Bruges resembles an episode of Arrested Development. And you can never have enough Arrested Development.
A large area explored in In Bruges is cultural differences. It could be the differences between Americans, Europeans, and Canadians or it could be between a gap as small as the British, the Belgians and the Dutch. But In Bruges could have the potential to unite the European and American film worlds. With an explosive mix of British humor and Tarantino plotting, Bruges’s director does not rip off Tarantino’s style like many have but has more been inspired by it and created something extremely successful out of it. This is the reason why Guy Ritchie isn’t quite the new Tarantino yet (also, he made Swept Away) but maybe Martin McDonagh will be someday. And this is only his debut film.
Maybe the reason In Bruges didn’t do so well is because it was advertised as a comical-but-violent gangster romp when it is more like Departed/Pulp Fiction meets Lost.
In Bruges caught me wildly by surprise, and it without a doubt deserves to be recognized as one of 2008′s best movies. It could be considered something radically new, but it went totally under the radar.
While most films set in Europe take place in London, Paris, Venice, or Rome, this movie gives us Bruges. It is not a place that is glorified like those cities. It is strange, hellish, and perhaps, not real. Who are these people? Is In Bruges trying to tell us that Bruges isn’t real? Is this a dream or inescapable prison? As one of the character’s says “at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in fuckin’ Bruges.”
The director is giving us no sort of comfort or answer here. Rather we must explore it. And debate will rage on. Maybe in 10 years, when critics and audiences alike finally embrace In Bruges as a new age masterpiece.
If you liked In Bruges…some other movies you might like: Pulp Fiction, Snatch, No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, The Departed, Arrested Development (TV show), Lost (TV show)