Bruges - (pronounced Broozh) city in Belgium
Have you ever been to Bruges? Well I haven't. When looking up a place to vacation, my family isn't looking at the brochure that says "Visit beautiful Belgium!" The city of Bruges is a medieval town with beautiful buildings and canals, but if you aren't held over by sightseeing, you probably won't want to go there. They don't even have a bowling alley. Being so obscure and unknown to most, it turns out to be the perfect place to, I don't know, hide out a couple of hit men who messed up their last job? That's exactly what Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) decided to do. After an unnecessary victim was claimed on their latest hit, Ray and Ken (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) are ordered by Harry to hole up in the little known city of Bruges in Belgium. While Ken has no trouble enjoying the gorgeous scenery, Ray hates everything about the city as he frequently expresses in rather vulgar terms. It could be that Ray is just upset because it was he who made the mistake on the job, and the guilt is destroying him on the inside. Not even a date with beautiful Belgian girl Chloe (Clemence Poesy) or a comically racist dwarf (Jordan Prentice) could cheer him up. After a few days in Bruges, Ken receives a phone call from Harry, and we discover that the reason the two men were stationed in the secret city is not as simple as it seemed.
Even after reading the plot synopsis, I'm going to venture to say you still don't quite know what to expect from In Bruges. I wasn't too keen on seeing it after hearing what it was about, but good word of mouth brought it to my DVD player. I've never been happier to give a movie a chance. I could talk about In Bruges for an hour and never would a negative word cross my lips. Beautifully written, the film is endlessly witty, darkly hilarious, and sincerely devilish. Writer-Director Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award in 2005 for his short film Six Shooter and he could be on the fast track to earning his second win for In Bruges' original screenplay. McDonagh's script has the ticklish punch you'd come to expect from a Coen brothers black comedy. Every line in In Bruges is relevant and comes back to say "hello" later on in the film. Don't let your ears drop for a second because you're likely to miss something that could make you laugh afterward. If his writing wasn't enough, McDonagh's direction is spectacular. The city of Bruges is laid out before you with stunning beauty and succeeds as not just a setting, but as a character in the film as well. The city serves as a prison to central character Ray, or even an eternal hell. No matter what he tries to do, his sins continually bring him back to Bruges.
But a script is just a bunch of pieces of paper if it doesn't have the actors to give it life. Colin Farrell gives the best performance of his career as morally affected hit man Ray. Before In Bruges, I had never seen Farrell in anything I had enjoyed (besides one episode of "Scrubs"). But in this role, he shows terrific ability that I've never seen from him before. Farrell does not simply have to play some tough guy executioner, but portray one that has a revelation about the true meaning behind his crimes. At times Farrell is drop dead funny, and then at the drop of a hat becomes the face of anguish and the epitome of guilt. Farrell received a Golden Globe for his performance and it was an accomplishment well-earned. Co-star Brendan Gleeson deserves equal praise for his turn as Ray's pal Ken. Ken has to make sure he keeps Ray's head above water and prevent him from doing something he may regret. Gleeson does an exceptional job of showing us how difficult it is for his character to make the decisions he is forced to make. Dealing with both the depressed Farrell and angry Fiennes, Gleeson's character is the middle piece that provides a balance between all the players. Rounding out the terrific ensemble is two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes as the temperamental boss of the duo that have caused him much grief. If Farrell and Gleeson weren't enough, Fiennes arrives halfway through the movie to add an entirely new aspect to the film. The moment his character arrives in person, the pace of the film kicks into another gear. So if you were getting bored of the sentimental displays of affection between Ray and Ken (even though they are not boring, very short, and are not maudlin in the slightest), you immediately became engaged again. Fiennes gives a fine performance that helps drive In Bruges to it's wonderful conclusion.
Behind the dark comedy of In Bruges there are some powerful underlying questions. What is Heaven? What is Hell? What exactly decides whether or not we make it into these places? While in a museum Ray and Ken come across a painting of The Last Judgement by Hieronymous Bosch. Throughout the film Ray openly despises everything he sees in Bruges, but when he sees this painting, even he is taken aback by it. Ray and Ken then begin to discuss the matter of the after-life, and how they feel they will be judged. Ken says he does not believe in places to go after death, but Ray has a line about ending up in purgatory, that "in betweeny one", that really stood out and had major relevance to his character. "You weren't really s*** but you weren't that great either". It's vulgar, it's short, but the truth behind it is unyielding. Disregarding Ray for a second, think of yourself. Would you consider yourself to be a great person? Do you feel you have done enough deeds in your life to warrant the status of a "great" person? Or, have you been, well, in a nicer way of saying it than Ray, crap? Would you say your existence has had no benefit on the human race whatsoever and if anything you've only made things worse? I'd certainly hope not. Yet I would say most of the human race falls in the middle of those two standards, including myself. So what are we to expect? Stuck in purgatory forever, dealing with absolute nothingness? And where exactly are all these places? Is Hell an actual set location or is just one place we really dislike, like Bruges for Ray? Or maybe I'm making a big deal out of a simple line. Your decision.
I was afraid of saying it before, but after viewing this film again I feel it is something I must say. In Bruges is one of my favorite films of all time and if it didn't fly so far under the radar back in February of 2008, it would be considered great by all. There are plenty of digs at Americans, but they aren't too bad and they are actually pretty true. There's even a moment when Harry insults our culture by saying even in killing people we are less civilized than the rest of the world. In Bruges is not long at all and you may even want it to go on longer once it is over. With so much to love, I can hardly think of anybody disliking this film. And if you are like me, you may put Bruges on your vacation list one day. After seeing how pretty it looks on film, I want to know what it's like in person. Maybe I'll find Ray there. My rating (10/10)