Here’s another one of my wackadoo theories: Sometimes the suits have a point.
Discount this theory if you like, but there’s a reason why so many movies come out with soul-crushingly generic titles. The shorter and easier to pronounce, the more comfortable it makes most people. Speaking as a guy whose favorite movie is The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, I’m not one who is often scared off by an unwieldy title. But nor am I completely immune to the intimidation that an unconventional title can present.
War, Inc. , the movie I expounded upon at [ridiculous] length yesterday, is one such example. Walking up to the box office, the internal monologue began. “Do I ask for one ticket for War ‘Ink’? Do I sound too obsessive compulsive if I extend it to ‘War Incorporated’? Is the ticket-taker going to think I want a ticket for Wall-E but I have a painful speech impediment? Will they think I’m a loser for going to the movies by myself?” That last concern has nothing to do with my point but maybe you can relate all the same.
Another example is In Bruges. The worldly reader will immediately recognize that second word as the name of the historic Belgian city in which the movie turns out to be set. But for an ugly American like me, it’s internal monologue time. “In Bruh-ggs? In Broo-jizz? In Brooooj?” Turns out to be the third pronunciation. Anyway, that one I just saw on DVD, so no worries.
In Bruges is one of those movies that I’m pretty convinced that almost all of my friends could universally agree on. Anybody who has contemporary tastes but some appreciation for history, anyone who likes their high-mindedness, depth of intention, and symbolism, tempered with low humor – this is a great choice for a night’s entertainment.
Martin McDonagh wrote and directed In Bruges. He primarily makes his living as a well-regarded playwright, but here he throws his hat into the well-worn cinematic genre of hitmen-on-the-run, with all of the sophistication and poetry one might expect from a well-regarded playwright, but a whole lot more absurd, off-color, and very dark comedy than one probably expects from a well-regarded playwright.
It’s the story of Ken and Ray, who are hitmen ordered to lay low in the bucolic town of Bruges after their most recent job went horribly wrong. The older, world-weary, cultured Ken and the younger, impetuous, even childish Ray are often at odds, but they stay put. That is exclusively out of their shared fear of their employer, who spends the first half of the movie entirely unseen, but is played by a very well-known actor who earns that fear once he finally arrives.
Ken is played by Brendan Gleeson, that brilliant, brilliant, brilliant British character actor with a bear-like frame, fists like pumpkins, and ears like catcher’s mitts. Gleeson has played the tough-guy role many times before, even the tough-guy hitman role before (such as in a neat Irish movie called I Went Down also written by a well-known playwright, Conor McPherson). But this time around, he brings a soulfulness and a sense of resignation and regret to the mix, while still banking all the comedy lay-ups the story throws his way.
Ray is played by Colin Farrell, who is just superlative. Colin Farrell has been increasingly well-known as that Irish guy with the heavy eyebrows who toplines almost nothing but underwhelming movies and is probably more famous as the guy who all the Playboy Centerfolds cite as the guy they’d most like to meet, after Einstein and Jesus of course. Well in this movie, Farrell absolutely delivers on his leading-man billing. (I will save my defense of the feature-length Miami Vice for a later time.) Farrell plays Ray as a near-innocent who just happens to be incredibly charming with the ladies and incredibly skilled at armed and unarmed violence. And he has recently made a terrible mistake which is killing him from the inside. Farrell’s control over his eyes and his voice in those quieter scenes – that’s what makes a movie star; those little but huge gestures that are unteachable. You’re rooting for Ray to figure it out, even as you see him do, in the course of the movie, a couple things that a man must never, ever do. Throughout the story, Ray keeps running into Jimmy, a little person who is starring in an art film which is shooting on location in Bruges, and Ray’s fascination with Jimmy is played by Farrell as hardly cruel or mocking, but curious and inquisitive, like a boy trying to catch a lizard.
Jordan Prentice is the actor who plays the little person with whom Ray is so obsessed, and while his role is small, he plays it with such sharp, prickly feeling and sarcastic aggressiveness (with rare moments of arrogant friendliness) that it makes me wish that more little people in movies were written so interestingly, instead of as the inevitable butt of easy jokes.
I don’t want to spoil for others the sense of discovery that this movie had in store for me, but I would also like to praise the crisp, chocolate-y cinematography by Eigil Bryld, the effective score from Carter Burwell (composer for the Coen Bros. and Spike Jonze, among others), and finally, one of the most unconvential climactic shoot-outs I have ever seen. And my friends, please believe me when I proclaim that I have seen a LOT of climactic shoot-outs in my time. But I have never seen one like this, and it’s strangely satisfying, even moving.
One last thing:
Also, on the DVD is an unusually classy special feature. It is a point-of-view boat ride that navigates the canals of Bruges, as Carter Burwell’s classical-influenced score plays and historical facts about the city scroll along the black framing bars of the screen. I hope you get time to check that one out if you pick up the In Bruges DVD, because it’s great.