I was quite excited for In Bruges. I quite liked its outcome. Having seen it, though, I’m wondering how it’s going to get away with quite so wide a release in Australia: it’s sweary, it’s violent, it’s funny, but it’s also melancholy. It’s about a pair of hitmen, their hot-tempered boss, a drug dealer and a racist dwarf. It’s pretty good!
Hitmen Ray and Ken (Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson) have been sent to Bruges by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to lay low after a job (“We didn’t know where the fuck Bruges was… it’s in Belgium.”). While they wait for a call from Harry, they go sight seeing: culture and fun stuff.
Colin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson carry this already enjoyable movie on the strength of their measured performances. Farrel has here mastered acting with body language alone, making Ray frequently hilarious without having to say anything at all. His dialogue helps as well, of course (“They’re filming something over there! They’re filming midgets!”), but he’s really a whole physical package. There’s a darkness and a sadness to the character, as well, that is effortlessly and naturally conveyed.
Gleeson, of course, is good in everything and the movie doesn’t come near being the potential “Mad Eye Moody versus Voldemort” battle royale that it could have been. Ken is also a sad man, who has faith in pockets of humanity despite his own shortcomings as a man who kills people for a living. Every character has a certain ambiguity about them, and no one is entirely good or evil. The film’s more than half over by the time that Ralph Fiennes materialises, but he’s just as good as everyone else (“You’re an inanimate fucking object! … I’m sorry I called you an inanimate object. I was angry.”) and certainly has his own code of ethics. Essentially it’s not just a funny film (and it can’t be called an action film, because, while it has guns, it’s very businesslike in that regard), it’s got a sort of meaning to it. Precisely what that meaning is is an exercise for the viewer.
The film is a politically incorrect minefield, of course, but who is honestly going to complain about a hitman comparing the balance between “culture” and “fun” as that between “a big fat fucking black fucking retarded girl and a midget”? These guys kill people for a living! That is inherently offensive! The homophobia in the film doesn’t feel forced, and is generally directed at a milquetoast skinhead. While sexuality does not denote fighting ability, it makes sense in the context of this character and in the wider context of Ray and Harry. Besides which, Ray eventually goes to a bar and asks for a “gay beer”, whatever that’s supposed to be.
Also potentially offended by In Bruges: Americans. Can’t help you there.
In Bruges is a constant delight and surprise, but I think it’s very potentially divisive. It’s not as clean as the trailers might have you believe, and nothing in it that matters comes easily. It’s a combination of sharp scripting, great acting and “fairytale” scenery that culminates in a compelling film that should be seen regardless.