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  • Vishaal Desai

'In Bruge'

'IN BRUGE' (2008)
Written & Directed by – Martin McDonagh


‘In Bruges’ is a story that leaves you with conflicting emotions. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are two hit men who have been sent to hide out in Bruges, Belgium by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), after a botched up job in London. Ken is the older and wiser of the two while Ray is a young newcomer with an almost childlike sensibility about him. Gleeson and Farrell have great chemistry and play off each other’s strengths very well. Ken instills a sort of ‘fatherly’ figure attitude towards Ray who despite his attitude, quite obviously looks up to him. While Ken is content with the medieval beauty of Bruges, Ray hates it and wants to go back. His misery is borne out of a deep sense of guilt.

As it turns out, their job in London was botched because Ray accidentally shot a little boy in the head. The guilt compels him to question life and death and contemplate suicide; this is where the tone of the film darkens considerably.

Eventually Ken gets a call from Harry ordering him to kill Ray as punishment for shooting the child. Ken is now faced with a dilemma – On one hand Ray is his friend and he feels that he deserves a second chance. On the other hand, should someone who killed a child be allowed to live? This is compounded by Ray’s desire to kill himself as penitence.

The scene in the museum where Ken and Ray come across the painting of ‘The Last Judgment’ by Hieronymous Bosch is symbolic and is referred to several times during the film, most notably in the end – after Ray is shot by Harry, he comes across the film shoot that has people dressed up in a manner that evokes comparison with the scene from the painting. The appearance of the painting itself seems to suggest the Ray’s and Ken’s own fate, i.e. to encounter their own ‘Last Judgment.’

This is probably Farrell’s most effective performance to date. He brings real heart to the character of Ray. Though he claims to hate Bruges, it is evident that his uncomfortable demeanour is a result of his guilt and Farrell clearly portrays Ray as someone who does not know how to deal with that guilt.

Brendan Gleeson portrays Ken as the polar opposite of Ray. He is the seasoned veteran and he knows how to deal with situations. He enjoys himself in Bruges, the cathedrals and the medieval buildings, but he also has a soft spot for Ray. His performance is gentle without appearing weak. There is a hint of his tough-as-nails personality, but what shines through is the honest, honorable nature of the character. Gleeson’s subtle, yet evident portrayal of Ken’s struggle with his decision entices us to sympathize with Ray, despite what he has done.

Amongst the supporting characters, Clémence Poésy’s portrayal of Chloe, as a romantic interest for Ray falls a bit flat and there isn’t enough in her character to make a great deal of difference to the story or to either of the primary characters. Jordan Prentice as Jimmy the Dwarf is hilarious. Thekla Reuten as Marie brings is a silent strength to her character.

Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as always. His portrayal of Harry is violent, despicable and yet principled. There is a sense of honour about him and everything he does or says during the film gives us that impression, right up to his own demise – whilst trying to kill Ray, he accidentally kills Jimmy. Mistaking the dwarf for a child, Harry suddenly finds himself in the same position as Ray. “I understand,” he says. “You’ve got to stick to your principles,” as he kills himself.

Though the Editing is woefully inconsistent, there is a strong sense of confidence in McDonagh’s direction; the performances and the environment gel together very well and the comedy is well timed, providing moments of humour without taking away from the gravity of the story’s theme. His writing is not terribly innovative in terms of plot, but the dialogue is very good. The one recognizable thing about good dialogue is that it is easy to deliver. The dialogue in this film comes across as smooth and natural and at the same time there is a sense of poetry to some of the lines.

The Art Direction stands out with beautifully designed sets aided by the beautiful location that is Bruges. The medieval architecture gives the film a feeling of other-worldliness. From the cobblestone streets to the flowing canals and the Gothic cathedrals, there certainly is, as Henry puts it, a ‘fairytale-like’ quality to Bruges.

Carter Burwell’s score plays well in tandem with the shifting tones of the film. The first act, where we explore Bruges and unravel the folds of both characters, is nicely complemented with a tune that accentuates the surroundings. This is then followed by a darker, heavier score that underlies Ray’s guilt and finally a more industrial approach during the final chase where Henry tries to kill Ray.

The ambiguous nature of the ending amplifies the surreal quality of the film. Will Ray survive or will he die? Ray considered Bruges to be akin to purgatory, the waiting period in a place that is between heaven and hell. Ray’s physical fate is left open to interpretation, but whether or not he survives, his state of mind has put him in a place that is purgatory for him.

Overall, ‘In Bruges’ is a quirky but dark film that is equal parts comedy and tragedy with a curious blend of pseudo-realism and surreal fantasy.

VishRates - 3.5 / 5

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