'In Bruges' Doesn't Miss

Friday, February 8, 2008

Let's face it: If there were as many hit men running around in the real world as have been populating movies the past 20 years, there'd be no need for assisted living, titanium hip replacements or Flomax. In the movies, the congestion of contract killers is pistol-wielding gridlock -- or, to paraphrase Philip Marlowe in "The Big Sleep," so many guns, so few brains. Regarding "In Bruges," Marlowe is only half right.

What the hit man and his baggage mean to most moviemakers is a shortcut to sorely conflicted humanity. What they mean to writer-director Martin McDonagh is an opportunity to take pot shots at the system. The dramatic system. The system that says a movie must go this way, then that, and leave us in a comfortable place. Many filmmakers have become intoxicated with the chance to alter formula, and stumbled.

McDonagh -- the two-time Olivier Award-winning, four-time Tony-nominated playwright ("The Beauty Queen of Leenane") making his first feature film -- succeeds with a dry, wine-dark comedy, powered by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, two wry Irishmen who have seldom had the opportunity to be as hilariously clueless as their characters, Ray and Ken.

The pair find themselves in Bruges, the Flemish port city known for its medieval architecture and bell tower. Ken (Gleeson) is willing to make the best of it. Ray (Farrell), not so much. "If I grew up on a farm and was retarded," Ray says, "Bruges might impress me." Ray may be restless, but it's his fault they're here: The hit men have been remanded to Bruges by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), because when Ray murdered a priest outside a church confessional he also put a bullet in the head of a little boy at prayer.

Those who know McDonagh's work know a vein of darkness will run deeply through the comedy. It has seldom been darker. Or funnier. He has made a hit-man movie in which you don't know what will happen and can't wait to find out. Every movie should be so cliched.

-- John Anderson

In Bruges R, 107 minutes Contains bloody violence, pervasive profanity and drug use. At Regal Gallery Place and Landmark's Bethesda Row. In Bruges R, 107 minutes Contains bloody violence, pervasive profanity and drug use. At Regal Gallery Place and Landmark's Bethesda Row.


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