Sunday, February 24, 2008

In Bruges

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two hit men who, having just completed a not-so-flawless assignment, are ordered by their boss, Harry (Ralph Feinnes), to the amazingly maintained medieval town of Bruges to relax and await further instructions, which could come in two days, or two weeks. The pair begin by doing the best they can to fit in but, unfortunately, the only real way to fit in is by becoming tourists and that prospect holds little, if any, appeal for the younger and less experienced Ray. The older, wiser and more seasoned Ken is at ease with the notion of a low profile and settles into his role as a tourist while trying to be a mentor, a friend and, in a way, a father figure to the rather uptight Ray. While the days awaiting contact pass, Ray, who seemingly has a knack for the unusual, finds himself attracted to a local female, Chloë (Clémence Poésy), which leads to some darkly humorous situations involving drugs, a dwarf American actor (Jordan Prentice), the locals and even some tourists. Contrary to Ray's experiences, Ken begins to appreciate his surroundings and finds himself being mentally and spiritually uplifted by the simple and quaint qualities of the historically preserved city. As Ken is enjoying his peace and tranquility and Ray is dealing with his current exploits, while internally struggling with the prior hit, Harry's call finally comes though, turning everything upside-down and leading to some of the best (and darkest) humor as well as some of the most unforeseen emotion.

I first saw the preview for this movie, several weeks ago, when I saw The Orphanage, and I knew then, simply from the trailer, that I was going to like it. I've liked Brendan Gleeson since Braveheart, and his perfectly delivered sarcastic turn in Lake Placid solidified my substantial respect and admiration for him, only to be compounded by his recent embodiment of the Auror, Alastor Moody. This film finally offers Gleeson a much deserved abundance of screen time and his performance is characteristically solid and surprisingly poignant. And speaking of HP,
Clémence Poésy, of Fleur Delacour fame, demonstrates an impressive command of frankness, drive and vulnerability as Chloë. In keeping with the wizard world refugees, Ralph Feinnes, as mob boss Harry, provokes fear steeped in unpredictability by bringing just the right amount of menace mixed with adamant lunacy to the character. However, for me, the standout performance was easily that of Colin Farrell as Ray. It's no great stretch to imagine Farrell as the guy not wanting to fit in or be a sheep-like tourist gaping at medieval architecture, but the surprise is how funny he can be while doing it. The other interesting aspect of Farrell's performance is the subtle way he plays up to the true issues haunting his character, revealing the unexpected emotional tough guy, which, again for me, is what made his performance such a standout.

And speaking of unexpected, the biggest surprise of the movie, by far, had to be the depth of the story coupled with it's touching human resonance. This was a perfect example of a trailer failing to do the film justice. I went into the theater expecting a rather light comedy with a few dark moments (after all they are hitmen) and sparsely populated with a few 'moral lessons' ending with the good bad-guys out maneuvering the bad bad-guys, much to the humor of the additional characters as well as the audience. Wow, was I ever wrong. My first thought when I realized my error in judgment was, "A lot of people are going to miss a really good movie, all because of a crappy trailer." Still, not to sell the comedy aspect short, there are hysterical moments and plenty of genuinely funny scenes and dialog, but it's their truthful representation that make them meaningful while being simultaneously humorous. The varying bright shades of humor are interwoven at angles among the larger somber qualities of the character's lives (death, guilt, loneliness, futility...) forming a kind of celluloid Tartan. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased that this film ended up being a far richer experience than what I was anticipating and I'm sure subsequent viewings will shed more light on the exceptionally nuanced performances.

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