Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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In Bruges

Film #450

THE PLOT

Guilt-stricken after a job gone wrong, hitman Ray and his partner await orders from their ruthless boss in Bruges, Belgium, the last place in the world Ray wants to be.

Year 2, Film #85

THE REVIEW: The second year of the movie marathon comes to a close and with it brings the amazing film that is In Bruges. Director Martin McDonagh (who also directed the outrageously funny Seven Psychopaths) brings his A-game to his feature debut and shows the right way of making a character-centered film that is plain and simple, while still keeping you engaged and entertained throughout. It’s almost as if this past week of films was one giant build-up to In Bruges showing all the ways a film like this can go wrong before finally being presented with a film that does everything right.

First step is to introduce viewers to the characters with just enough information to orient them as to why they’re watching this film, but also leaving plenty of room for mystery and questions. In Bruges opens with Ray (Colin Farrell) telling us that he just killed a man and now he must go into hiding in Bruges, Belgium. Going with Ray is Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who’s an older, more experienced hitman that seems to be Ray’s handler so to speak.  We know enough to know that something bad happened and that something worse will probably happen, we just don’t know what yet.

This is something that is carried on throughout the film and is one of the things that makes it so enjoyable. There’s a fine line between mystery and confusion or lack of purpose and In Bruges always manages to stay on the side of mystery and intrigue. We’re never a step ahead or a step behind the film feeling like what’s going to happen next is either predictable or so out of the blue and unexpected that is makes no sense whatsoever. The unfolding of events makes perfect sense in retrospect and is the natural way they should progress, but as you watch the film for the first time it all feels spontaneous. Not only does it seem spontaneous but it’s also a natural build-up of tension and conflict. As we learn more and more about Ray, Ken, and the couple of minor characters, we realize that there’s more to them that meets the eye. When Ray and Ken first arrive in Bruges they act very lackadaisical and, especially in Ray’s case, bored. Ray can’t wait until he can go back to living a normal life and being in Bruges is like a punishment to him rather than a soothing vacation. As you get farther into the film you learn that it’s not just because Ray hates Bruges and thinks it’s a shithole, but that he also has anxiety and guilt for just having murdered people. Those feelings have been with Ray since the beginning of the film but it’s only when he reaches that revelation that they also become apparent to us.

Another important step, and one that the last two films overlooked, is making the story and characters feel complete and fully fleshed out. In Bruges has a couple of minor characters including Chloë (Clémence Poésy) who is a Belgian criminal Ray likes, Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) who is a dwarf actor shooting a film in Bruges, and Eirik (Jérémie Renier) who is Chloë’s ex-boyfriend. All of these minor characters have their individual purposes but where In Bruges is better is that these characters don’t feel like their included to solely fulfill their purpose. They all feel as if they belong in this place and this story at this time. Chloë is there as a distraction for Ray (quite literally in the end) but also brings out the guilt and the emotions that are eating him up inside. Jimmy seems quite pointless and there only for a whole bunch of midget jokes, but he too forces Ray to see things he may not want to in addition to Ken who goes partying with them as well. And Eirik is there to be the snitch and the one to try and help Harry (Ralph Fiennes) when he gets to Bruges to finish some business but also to illuminate how criminals can still have morals.

But it’s not just that these characters seem to fit in. Making characters fit in is something that should be fairly common and expected for a film to succeed at. In Bruges though doesn’t stop there and gives the minor characters some of the best parts in the film. Željko Ivanek plays a Canadian man that shows up in two scenes: in a restaurant and on a train. While he may not have much screen time at all or have anywhere near as much importance as Ray, Ken, or the other minor characters, he is one of the most memorable. And Yuri (Eric Godon) is another of these seemingly inconsequential characters who shows up a handful of times but makes a big impact. Because of Yuri, I will never think of alcoves or nooks and crannies again without thinking about this film.

In Bruges may not be as funny as Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psycopaths or some other comedy. It may not be as suspenseful, mysterious, or dramatic as other films are. But In Bruges is not a film of extremes, it’s a film that’s simple. It doesn’t try to be the best of the best but instead tries to be the best it can be. And the result is amazing. Farrell and Gleeson drive the film to great heights but then the smaller characters drive the film even higher. But what makes this film best of all is the love or hatred for this medieval, fairytale-like place called Bruges. It’s a film that slowly but surely builds up its strength and makes an impact on you as the credits roll. It may not be flashy, but it is effective, and it is extremely fun and entertaining to watch.

THE RATING: 5 out of 5