Sunday, March 9, 2008

In Bruges (Review)

in bruges

Some notes on my impressions of Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges:

Now at last I can name a Colin Farrell movie I really like. Farrell overplays his cuteness a bit, but in the end his character is more lovable than cloying.

The movie is very play-like--like David Mamet's films--more literate than visual or kinetic--the setting (Bruges in winter) and even the characters (mainly, two smalltime British hoods, played by Farrell and Brendon Gleeson) seem only loosely connected to the dialogue, which exists in its own realm--as if spoken in a radio play. "Bruges" is a word or concept more than a place--a point made directly from time to time during the film.

The movie is intriguing for the same reasons McDonagh's plays are intriguing--and its only weakness is the sense that all this would probably work just as well on stage--or perhaps a bit better on radio--though, perhaps, with some loss to the immediacy of some of the scenes of violence. The film is minimalist in its cinematic effects, but it works, just as Mamet's and Harold Pinter's minimalist screenplays often work in their own fashion.

In fact, certain plot points of In Bruges remind me of Pinter's claustrophobic one-act play The Dumb Waiter.

Ralph Fiennes is riveting (and creepily sexy, as usual) even though he seems to be channeling Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. An offhand reference to Gandhi struck me as practically written, tongue in cheek, for Kingsley.

The scene with Gleeson talking on the phone with Fiennes seems like it is a single long take, paralleling the famous long take in Touch of Evil, which plays on TV in the background of the scene.

As in McDonagh's plays, cutting wit counterpoints serious moral dilemma.

In Bruges is about guilt, personal responsibility, and, as Fiennes's character drives home repeatedly, honor and principle.

Remarks about Vietnam, racism, and the Day of Judgment play off other, equally offhand allusions to Gandhi, familial duty, and Christmas, reminding us of political, social, and religious parallels to the private conflicts that play out for us, but not in a ham-fisted, didactic way.

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