Sideways Shooting: In Bruges

{grate 3} You might have never heard of it, but there’s a sleepy town
by the name of Bruges making quite
a name for itself on the streets of Belgium.
The site of ancient cobblestone streets, canals and the most authentic medieval
architecture north of Venice, Bruges
is both the muse and backdrop for Martin McDonagh’s first feature film, the
appropriately titled “In Bruges.” The film, inspired by an actual trip McDonagh
took to Bruges (pronounced Broozh), is a darkly comedic caper about death,
sightseeing, drugs and appreciating pretty buildings; it uses the Gothic
environment to tell the tale of two hitmen hiding out in the cubbyhole city.

Working from the city forward, McDonagh creates vivid
protagonists: “While I was first there, about four years ago, I had diverging
feelings about the place,” McDonagh said. “I started thinking of two characters
who might respond to Bruges in
distinct ways, and I started writing about them, with specific parts of Bruges
for them to interact in and around.” These two characters became Ray and Ken,
played by Irish actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who take to the city
with some nefarious results.

Each assassin comes to Bruges
with an entirely different agenda. On one hand, who wouldn’t love museums chock
full of culture and relics filled with Christ’s blood? Then again, how much
culture can one person take before his brain taps out and the next pub crawl
begins? This is where Ray and Ken diverge. Farrell’s Ray, alternately savage
and anguished, is tortured by the boredom of Bruges
provincial pleasures. Meanwhile Gleeson’s Ken, a more experienced and affable
killer, enjoys his time as a tourist and attempts to share his love of history
with his surly young friend. McDonagh tinkers with irony as Bruges
brings out the best in both men, exposing them to some shady locals and even an
American dwarf. Both become more human as the movie rolls along, despite their
status as hitmen, each one reconsidering his role in life and the choices he’s
made.

Bruges becomes
surreal and beautiful — the perfect backdrop for a crime caper drenched in dark
comedy.

“It’s as if somebody built a magnificent movie set and said,
go shoot,” McDonagh said.

But for every dreamy lakeside scenario, a scattering of
“fuck yous” and gunshots smatter the serenity. Of these, a majority are fired
off by the film’s other critical character, Harry (the malevolently fun Ralph
Fiennes), the English crime boss who has a major hard-on for Bruges
and particular four-letter words. Fiennes is an arch villain straight out of a
Guy Ritchie flick, with a sense of humor so dry it’s like huffing dust.

But like all of McDonagh’s characters, Harry is driven by a
multi-tiered system of ethics that is complicated and wicked. He’s a guy that
will blow you away without a second glance, but at least he has his reasons,
convoluted as they may be.

But the main show in “In Bruges” is the witty banter between
the gun brawls. Farrell woos the audience as he mouths off in a cocky, Irish
brogue, bashing Bruges at every
turn with quips like, “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges
might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” McDonagh, a playwright and
filmmaker, puts his theater background to good use with apt dialogue that packs
the film with line after line of quick-witted cheek.

The combination of sauciness and Farrell’s long-lashed gaze
can hardly make the audience hate Ray, even when he blinds a man with blanks.
In the rough-and-tumble world of hired hits, McDonagh proves that even hitmen
need holidays.

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