A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, June 16, 2017

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in In Bruges
Ray: Colin Farrell
Ken: Brendan Gleeson
Harry: Ralph Fiennes
Chloe: Clémence Poésy
Jimmy: Jordan Prentice
Yuri: Eric Godon
Canadian Man: Zeljko Ivanek
Eirik: Jérémie Renier
Marie: Thekla Reuten

Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Cinematography: Eigil Bryld
Music: Carter Burwell

Martin McDonagh's In Bruges is a bloody little gem about two hitmen, Ray and Ken, who have been sent by their boss, Harry, to the picturesque Belgian city of Bruges to await further instructions. Brooding, depressed Ray thinks Bruges is a "shithole," whereas Ken is rather taken with the medieval architecture, the cobblestone streets, and the canals. Ray's deep funk stems from guilt: While carrying out a hit Harry ordered -- we never find out why -- on a priest (Ciarán Hinds in an unbilled cameo), Ray accidentally killed a small boy who was standing behind the priest, waiting his turn in the confessional. Ken drags Ray around the city, trying to raise his spirits with sightseeing, but the only thing that works is Ray's discovery of a crew making a film on location and particularly of the pretty Chloe, a production assistant who is actually a drug dealer. Ray is also enchanted that one of the actors is what he calls "a midget" named Jimmy, which allows him to investigate his theory that little people are particularly inclined to be suicidal. Wait, I'm getting lost in the filigree that In Bruges is full of. To return to the main plot, it turns out that the real reason Harry has sent Ray and Ken to Bruges is so Ray can have a good time before Ken kills him. But to understand that, you have to go back into the filigree again: Harry has his own personal gangster code, one article of which is that you must never kill a child, so Ray has to pay the price, but since one of Harry's few happy memories is of the time he spent at the age of 7 in Bruges, he naturally assumes that the trip will be so delightful for Ray that he can die happy. Writer-director McDonagh's imaginative intricacies of characterization and motive might have resulted in only a somewhat twee black comedy if it weren't for the brilliance of his performers, especially Farrell in a part that turned him from a second-string leading man to a specialist in eccentric characters in oddball independent films like Yorgos Lanthimos's The Lobster (2015). In Bruges is crowded with unexpectedly colorful secondary characters, including Zeljko Ivanek as a Canadian whom Ray insults in a restaurant by mistaking him for an American; Jérémie Renier as Chloe's former boyfriend, who attacks Ray but winds up getting shot in the face with his own gun, loaded with blanks; and Thekla Reuten as Marie, the proprietor of the boutique hotel where Ray and Ken are staying, who meticulously takes down a message to them from Harry, who emphasizes every word in the message by modifying it with "fucking." It's true that the film ends in a bloodbath, but somehow the tone McDonagh has established, with the help of a fine score by Carter Burwell, allows it to transcend its violent excesses.

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