Monday, 7 April 2008

In Bruges - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenwriter: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 107 mins
Certificate: 18
Released: 18 April

In the past ten years, the 38-year-old Irish playwright Martin McDonagh has racked up four Tony nominations and a Lawrence Olivier award for his work in theatre. In 2005, McDonagh tried his hand at filmmaking, and for his efforts was awarded the Oscar for Best Live Short. Next stop on the road to critical mass – feature film.

Fans of McDonagh’s work won’t be disappointed by his arrival to cinemas. The Irishman doesn’t divert very far from his known tastes – bloodshed, catholic guilt, and quick wit are all on the menu. Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are a couple of Dublin hit men sent to the majestic Belgian city of Bruges to lay low after a horrifying accident during Ray’s first job. While lion-hearted Ray smiles at the gothic architecture and canals, twitchy Ray yarns in protest of the city and its tourists. Not content with being stuck up in a B&B awaiting instruction from mob boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Ray becomes unleashed and hits the misty streets, where he comes across a film shoot starring a dwarf (Jordan Prentice). Soon he’s chatting up the film’s PA, Chloe (Clemence Poesy) a local narcotics merchant with the face of an angel.

From here several storylines are set into motion and McDonagh shows erudite skill at balancing quite a bit of plot while keeping the audience entertained and focused throughout. Every situation, no matter how big or small, gets a Larry David-esque verbal examination, and every peripheral character is exaggerated – a racist coke and whore-loving dwarf and a sensitive skinhead are just a few examples. But the most shocking thing is seeing Ralph Fiennes as an insane cockney mobster – Fiennes is more unhinged than ever before – like a delinquent Lord Voldemort jacked up on meth. Aside from Fiennes over-the-top performance, the primary players give fully spirited turns. Relishing his role as the remorseful Ray, the oft-miscast Colin Farrell is a comedic revelation, and has never been better.

In Bruges triumphs as a darkly comic shooter with smarts, with the vitality of the early films of the Cohen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. One might rightly scoff at that comparison, since every year there seem to be a dozen more pointless riffs on Pulp Fiction, but McDonagh is far too smart to fall into the usual traps of numb ostentation. In Bruges may trip up at its dizzying, metaphor-heavy finale, but the ride is so scrumptiously entertaining that one can forgive the little gaffes. Martin McDonagh’s debut feature proves that not only can he write, but he can handle the big guns as well.

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