(It’s in Belgium)
In Bruges has been on my to watch list for a really long time. I remember seeing a trailer for it when it first came out and thinking it looked good, but somehow I got put off by a couple of bad reviews and never quite managed it. It’s stayed on my mind though, and thanks to the magic of Christmas I finally got my hands on a copy of the DVD.
Perhaps what confused the people writing those few bad reviews I read was that In Bruges was marketed (at least in part) as a comedy. And yes, it is a comedy. But a very black one which looks at death, suicide, redemption and the nature of humanity. Those themes don’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but the genius of Mark McDonagh’s writing leaves us with a wonderful film that flips effortlessly between moments of raw emotion and pure laughter. It’s little wonder that it won the BAFTA for best screenplay and also got an Oscar nod. The script is pretty much perfect. Every time it’s at risk of getting too heavy, a quip breaks the tension, but not in such a way that it undermines the motion or the meaning in what is going on.
The idea of Bruges as a kind of purgatory for our main character, Ray, is clever and done with incredibly delicacy. I also love how we aren’t really introduced to the characters, just thrown in with them, with everything we need to know about them revealed through snippets of conversation. You get to know the protagonists in much the same way you get to know people in life, which adds realism to an already earthy plot.
All the clever writing in the world can’t save bad acting, but luckily the three central characters are played by three great actors: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. I’ve written before about how highly I rate Farrell as an actor, and I think this film is a huge testament to his talent. He plays Ray with a childlike innocence which is endearing and all the more striking given what we learn about him during the film. Like the writing, he manages to find a perfect balance between humour and pathos, creating a character who is entirely sympathetic yet in another film could easily be the villain. Gleeson has similar qualities as Ken, taking a more fatherly role to Farrell’s child, while Fiennes manages to give humanity to a character who could easily be written off as a psychopath. The brilliance of In Bruges is that you really care about, and like, all the characters, even though we are never deceived about the bad things they have done. Even the supporting cast; racist dwarf Jimmy and drug dealing thief Chloe, have us rooting for them.
The plot also keeps you on your toes, so that you’re never quite sure where things are going to go next. It’s not so much that there are lots of twists, more that like the characters, you can’t really see how they’re going to get out of the situation they are in. It’s a fantastic film and I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it because it’s going straight on to the Movies to see before you die list.
Happy New Year Everyone!