4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:
$39.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use.
Stars Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Thekla Reuten, Zeljko Ivanek, Ciarán Hinds.
Twenty minutes is generally the make-or-break point. If the first reel fails to sink its claws, chances are nothing that follows will compensate for that initial bad impression. Rarely, as in the case of Robert Mulligan’s Bloodbrothers, does a film purposely start on what appears to be unintentionally slippery footing only to turn things around in reel five by artistically justifying the introductory unevenness. As quick as I am to give up hope after a reel, it is even tougher to go for a film that ultimately falls apart in the last 10 minutes. Such is the case with Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.
After a particularly grueling assignment, hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell), receive stern warning from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes): “Get the f*** out of London.”
Harry sentences the pair to two weeks in a Bruges hotel where they’re ordered to lay low until he calls with further instructions. Infantile Ray instantly starts climbing walls at the mere hint of transforming their room into a jail cell. Playing against his natural dimwitted impulses, Ray uses the threat of culture as inducement and convinces Ken to take an evening constitutional. During their stroll, Ray is instantly smitten by a woman he spies working on a film crew. Chloe (Clémence Poésy) has the most important job on the production: She supplies drugs to the cast and crew.
Films like Midnight Express, Babel and Manda Bala depict nightmare destinations that act as instant deterrents to tourism. It has been a long time since a film gave me the itch to visit the city in which it was filmed. With its canals, cobbled streets and miles of beautifully preserved medieval architecture, the titular locale seems like a perfect storybook destination. What better place for a couple of hoods to hole up in than the picturesque town of Bruges, the capital of West Flanders in northwest Belgium?
Ken is somewhat cultured, as assassins go, and actually enjoys taking in the scenic points of interest. Uncouth boor that he is, Ray gets his kicks by harassing obese tourists. In spite of Harry’s orders to stay in the room and await his orders, Ray refuses to break his first date with Chloe. After the first cocktail together his actions are almost justified. Chloe possesses the perfect blend of mystery, beauty and bad behavior to attract any criminal looking for a down-time diversion.
Even if Ray waited for Harry to call, the results would have been the same. His first contract, a priest in mid-confession, ends with a child accidentally getting caught in the crossfire, a fact that haunts Ray and repulses Harry who has a soft spot for children. Ken’s next assignment is to whack his partner. He trails Ray to a local park where no sooner does he draw a bead on his partner than guilt-racked Ray lifts a gun to his temple. Ken could just as easily let nature take its course, but his fondness for the kid causes Ken to put an “Amen” on both hit and suicide and in doing so, pray that Harry goes easy.
Up until now, much of the comedy flowed naturally from Ray’s ignorant, mean-spirited reaction to his idyllic surroundings. This was playwright Martin McDonagh’s debut, his distinctively cadenced ear for gutter- speak apparent from the get-go. The amount of “c” words strung together in one 30 second scene outnumber most features.
Let’s pause for a few words on the most reviled word in the English language. Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack is the first time I remember hearing a man refer to another man as a “c**t.” Compared to Ken and Ray, Jack sounds like a schoolmarm. The Brits have an affinity for the pejorative that’s unsurpassed. Found on The Tailor of Panama commentary track: director John Boorman professess undying adoration and vows to do whatever he can to keep this “lovely” expletive alive in his dialogue. During an interview with Martin’s younger brother, John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Cavalry), I ask about his fascination with the word. “You see, this is the thing,” he laughs, “In England people use it as a non-purpose word that doesn’t have the weight that it has in America. You come out of the toilet at a bar to find all your friends have left and you say, ‘Where have all those c**ts gone?’” The McDonaghs (and Scorsese and Mamet, etc.) use curse words as a writer could commas to bring a stylistic rhythm to their dialog.
If you have yet to see the movie it’s best to stop here. The road ahead is paved with spoilers.
Signs of a faltering narrative first appear when Harry’s weakness for children is used as a justification for Ray’s termination. Just because he likes kids shouldn’t automatically render him childlike. Watching Harry self-destruct and rip apart a phone while his family looked on from the dinner table earned a hearty chuckle. But it’s a bit much when, after Ken covers for Ray by telling Harry that his mate is indisposed, the boss’s first reaction is to ask whether he is “making a pee or poo.”
The Boss should have packed lightly; when Harry hits town his excess baggage includes happenstance, convenience, and an unsatisfying climax. A pair of anti-smokers, awkwardly-placed in Act I, return to enact revenge three reels later. Given what we know of him, a pro like Harry would never be so reckless a shot. And either that bell tower had 147 stories or Harry took the 10-steps-down, five-steps-up staircase. Ray has time to jump to his death and deliver a pavement soliloquy while Harry is still running.
In spite of these few gripes, In Bruges is still worth your time if for no other reason than a chance to watch Brendan Gleeson, one of the last great character actors, strut his stuff. Fiennes and Farrell (basically reprising his role from Cassandra’s Dream) are outstanding, but nothing comes close to matching the scene in the tower where Ray, tired of all the double-crossing, simply gives up. In the company of such over-the-top performances, Gleeson wisely underplays at every turn. His maturity and depth of characterization are what engaged and kept me in In Bruges.
The 4K edition includes four featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, interviews with the cast and filmmakers, a gag reel and the film’s trailer.