In Bruges*

*It’s in Belgium.

And it’s a pretty good film! I hate how my expectations are  lowered whenever I approach a British film, but I suppose it does allow a modest film like this to shine out. It’s a Film4 Production, therefore British, starring Brendan Gleason and Colin Farrell, therefore Irish, but set almost entirely in Bruges (whose tourist industry it should greatly benefit), therefore European. And released through Universal.

Eigil Bryld’s photography shows the city off to great effect, but Martin McDonagh’s intelligent direction keeps the scenic values working to the benefit of the film as a whole. His only error as director is to presage a long take with a glimpse of TOUCH OF EVIL on TV. Referencing that famous crane shot is rather studenty — Altman got away with it in THE PLAYER by doing it so blatantly it became a postmodern gag. James Toback did it in EXPOSED and it struck me as juvenile. It doesn’t help when the takes involved lack the complexity and bravura of Welles’ ground-breaker.

The filming is elegant and unhurried, attentive to performance, and it’s here the film scores. As two criminals laying low, Gleason and Farrell are funny and engaging, even when misbehaving atrociously. McDonagh’s script serves up skull-fulls of political incorrectness, with Farrell in particular using most of the forbidden derogatory terms, and karate-chopping a dwarf for good measure. In fairness, the little guy, Jordan Prentice, had just been promoting race war. The fact that he’s American, short, and apt to spout racist nonsense under the influence of cocaine suggests some kind of Mel Gibson spoof, but it isn’t belaboured.

Farrell redeems himself from his ALEXANDER embarrassment with an assured comic performance. The central joke of his character — an entirely unmotivated hatred for the inoffensive Bruges — never wears out, and he’s allowed some genuine pathos as well. Gleason is a marvel to behold. His great decomposing pudding of a face fully justifies the presence of 31 visual effects artists in the credits — it couldn’t have been easy to create. He earns our respect by demonstrating an unnatural ability to animate and transmogrify every fold and flap of facial flesh, but mostly CHOOSING NOT TO. In his last moments, he does things with one eye that simply defy both belief and comprehension, retracting it inwards, before extending it like a thumb, apparently looking at himself, winching it back into its pillows of skin, then somehow turning it off, apparently forever.

Clémence Poésy, Farrell’s romantic interest, is charming, distinctive looking, and hypnotically watchable — she may be the HARRY POTTER kid who has the strongest chance of adult stardom. Jordan Prentice manages to make the “racist dwarf” character sympathetic as well as surly, and transcends his role’s starting point as a swipe from LIVING IN OBLIVION.

And then there’s Ralph Fiennes. Looking more and more like Leonard Rossiter, and playing a role that could easily have been a pale imitation of Ben Kingsley’s terrifying turn in SEXY BEAST. Fiennes plays the part as if that worry hadn’t occurred to him. Although his cockney accent always has an artificial quality (some real ones DO) he’s effective, menacing, and very funny, something I hadn’t known he COULD be. Although a friend who worked with him has called him “the most boring man alive”, he’s certainly compelling on the screen.

Peter Serafinowicz as Ralph Fiennes / Leonard Rossiter.

His appearance does pose problems, however. The amusing script spends its first half replaying Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. When Fiennes shows up, it slowly becomes an action thriller. And the action doesn’t build, sustain, dazzle with spectacle or obey the rules of logic. Having dismissed the idea of shooting Gleason in public, Fiennes pulls a gun and starts blasting at Farrell in full view of swarms of tourists.

But the flaws aren’t enough to wreck it altogether — the film is still witty and gracefully made even when it’s a bit off-track. And it’s a first feature. So there’s hope.

“Lots of midgets have offed themselves. I hope yours doesn’t, otherwise your film’ll be fucked.”

My Mum’s capsule review ~ “Sweary but good.”

And yes, the MPAA confirms the second part: “pervasive language”.

15 Responses to “In Bruges*”

  1. “I hate how my expectations are lowered whenever I approach a British film…”

    Well, they shouldn’t be. There’s been some good ones lately. London to Brighton pops in my mind. In fact I think it’s so good, I’ve made it my personal mission to get everyone to see it.

    I do hate Withnail & I, though.

  2. Though it opened in “dump” season, In Bruges won some respectable notices this side of the pond, being it’s a modest contribition to the post-Performance British crime film.

    Colin Farrell’s main problem in Alexander, outside of Stone’s peerlessly stupid script, was the ridiculous blonde wig.

    Farrell is always a welcome presence, IMO. He’s “a lad” who’s full of fun and mischief — and sometimes a bit more, as in the scandalously overlooked A Home At The End of the World where his rooftop waltz with Dallas Roberts to the trio from Cosi broke my heart in 26 places.

  3. “…broke my heart in 26 places.”

    Is that expression your own invention? Because it’s so good I wanna steal it.

    And for some reason I liked Alexander… Yeah, the bookend scenes were badly written and it was boring in places, but I felt that it was a film that needed to be made. Simply because it tried to be as authentic as possible.

  4. The decision to have Farrell play Alexander as Irish was…interesting. Made more complicated by having Angelina Jolie as his mum (!) with a Transylvanian accent and playing it as the reincarnation of Maria Montez. David Melville says: “She’s the only one who understands what kind of film she’s in.”

    But yes, the wig was madness. Hadn’t they looked at the Burton version?

    It’s nice to see the British crime film enjoying some kind of recovery from the damage wrought by the post-Lock Stock overkill. People were SO sick of gangster films here for a while.

    As for London To Brighton, I’m still to see it. Fiona really liked it. Mike Hodges didn’t. And I’m afraid I upset the director with my review of The Cottage — SOMEONE posted pseudononymously in the comments section, and they weren’t happy…

    I thought of comparing In Bruges to The Cottage because they have a huge amount in common, only In Bruges works, but I thought it was time to leave The Cottage alone.

  5. I believe it’s a song title, Elver.

  6. Ralph Fiennes is a great stage actor. I saw him give a truly mesmerizing performance a couple of years ago in Brian Friel’s play Faith Healer.

  7. Oh dear, I have to say I hated this… possibly hated it because it came so close to being really, really good at certain points, only to throw it all away in a farrago of hotchpotchery designed to bring about a ker-ayzee twist (“worst ending since Burton’s Planet of the Apes” opined a friend and they weren’t wrong). The first half-hour seemed tentatively good, the second half-hour had me holding my breath waiting to see what happened next, then – the slow grinding of the machinery, heaving all the participants into their appointed places, all the better to bring about a preordained twist. This is what made me retrospectively hate it – the contempt for the characters, as referred to above, that causes Fiennes – playing a terrifying, career criminal, a professional – to follow an obviously fatally wounded Farrell and deliver the coup de grace in full public view, just so the stupidest, most immature black comedy twist of the century so far can be winched into place. But it’s in the end of year awards lists – Pinter meets Very Bad Things is the recipe for success, it seems.

  8. I do see what you mean about the ending: both contrived and hyped-up. I tolerated it, but it does hurt the film. The guy’s dialogue is great — maybe what’s needed is for him to write an all-original script, rather than adapting his play.

  9. While I enjoyed In Bruges to a certain extent, I was a bit disappointed overall. I thought McDonagh’s earlier short Six Shooter was excellent.

  10. Haven’t seen the short — is it a DVD extra?

  11. Don’t think so. I saw it on TV.

  12. In my opinion, a much better and more moving Irish film than McDonagh’s In Bruges is Lenny Abrahamson’s Garage.

  13. I’ll watch out for that. Wonder if it’s rent-able.

  14. I think you can rent it from

  15. Have added it to my list. Sounds worth a go.

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