IN BRUGES (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

Amidst Eigil Bryld’s exquisite color cinematography of medieval Flemish architecture, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges charts the course of three waning men, two Irish contract killers and their boss, in the Belgian town. Ken is the professional; Ray, the novice. Harry (Ralph Fiennes, excellent), the Londoner for whom they work, is the only cold-blooded bastard in the bunch—and when push comes to shove, he is more than willing to do his own killing. Harry has sent the pair to Bruges following a job that dispatched not only the target, a priest, but also a praying child. According to Harry’s “principles,” this means Ken now has to take out Ray, who is convulsed with guilt over having caused the innocent boy’s death. By film’s end, there is a whole lot of spilt blood, and the suicidal Ray, shot to pieces by Harry (Ken wouldn’t do it), is presumably providing voiceover from Purgatory. Ray was not all bad—and not all that good.
     Playwright McDonagh is at his best when he is being funny in the vein of Samuel Beckett, and it follows that his star, Colin Farrell, is at his best, which is early on, when he is letting the contents of this vein freely flow. I have never previously liked Farrell, whose acting ability struck me as being on a par with Tom Cruise’s, Johnny Depp’s, Brad Pitt’s—in short, nil. But here he is a riot. That doesn’t last long, however. Clumsy McDonagh sentimentalizes everything. His film, which had been charmingly unbelievable, turns unbelievably unbelievable.
     Brendan Gleeson, who was so memorably brilliant in John Boorman’s best film, The General (1998), has also had to cede to the director’s sentimental tendency, resulting in an incoherent performance. By far the best actor in the cast (and one of the best young film actors in the world today), Belgium’s own Jérémie Renier has been relegated to an unpleasantly whiny supporting role as one-half of a thieving pair of con artists who is blinded with a blank from his own gun, which Ray has wrestled away from him.

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