While everyone else in the known world was out seeing that talking elephant movie, we decided to take a shot in the dark and try a little movie that most of you have probably never heard of: “In Bruges.” As with many of the times when this reviewer has gone to see a film on a snippet of very positive buzz and a gut feeling, “Bruges” turned out to be a helluva film, a delightful dark comedy with real soul. The acting is great, the writing and direction are superb, and the scenery is lovely. Sadly, if you’re not very quick on the draw, you’ll more than likely miss its Little Rock run in theaters. Don’t. It’s one of the good-uns.
The first directing effort of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (he also wrote the script), “In Bruges” is the story of two British hitmen, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell). Ken is getting a little long in the tooth, and looking to retire as wetworks man for an eccentric and psychopathic crime boss named Harry (Ralph Fiennes). To that end, Ken is training a replacement in Ray, a none-too-bright Irish kid. When Ray manages to thoroughly botch his first job, however — killing a young boy along with the target of the hit — Harry sends the pair to the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges to wait for the heat to cool off. There, Ray — cycling between boredom and suicidal depression over what he has done — has a series of bizarre misadventures, including punching out an American tourist and his wife for killing John Lennon, falling in love and taking acid with a racist little person. Meanwhile, the more thoughtful and introspective Ken drinks in the Zen of the place, and comes to a new understanding about his place in the world. Before long, however, Harry calls with instructions and eventually makes his way to Bruges, a move that forces both Ken and Ray to do things they would have never considered before.
Though the ending of “In Bruges” is horrendously — perhaps unnecessarily — bloody, it is a movie with real heart. Colin Farrell tunes down his brogue enough that American audiences can actually understand what he’s saying, and turns in a real performance, shaded with guilt and hope and love. The true standout, however, is Brendan Gleeson, who I’m firmly convinced is one of the great unsung actors working today. His Ken — who is gay, by the way — is a fine example of the craft. And it is through Gleeson’s hard work that “In Bruges” becomes more than a just another quippy black comedy. Before you know it — just when you think you have it categorized — “In Bruges” manages to wriggle out from under the labels and become this lovely little film about duty and honor and what we’ll do to purchase salvation; a film full of death that is — paradoxically — all about life. Watching Gleeson, Farrell and McDonagh get there is a thing to behold. The verdict: While “In Bruges” does have its flaws, it’s still a damn good movie. Catch it while you can.