*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”.