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In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges. Feature film. (2008, 107 mins) IMDB

...one of the best films I've seen a while...

I

came into this film knowing nothing about it and after watching I realize I should have. It's a film worth watching.

Colin Farrell plays a hit-man in hiding. He just completed a job in London and his boss asks him to hide in Bruges, to lay low until the heat cools off. He's never heard of the place. I've never heard of it. But the film takes place in this small city in Belgium. An ancient city with old buildings and a history.

His first response on arrival: it's a shithole. After some consideration, he repeats: it's a shithole. And he repeats it again. He hates the place and doesn't want to be there. I can't say I agree with him because having lived in Africa, Bruges is far from a shithole. Having lived in Lund, Sweden, a city similar to Bruges, I can say it's what you make of it and the people who are there. I loved my time in Lund.

Not a great deal happens in the opening scenes and yet so much happens. It's quite bizarre how effective it is. I imagined this film was originally produced as a play because it could have been, but it appears not to be the case. (The writer/director of the film is noted playwright and that's the reason this film feels like a play).

Ray doesn't arrive alone. He's holed up in a tiny hotel with a fellow hitman, Ken. To the pass the time, Ken suggests sightseeing. Ray can't imagine anything more boring. He wants to leave the city and get back to England, but he can't. They have to wait for word from the boss.

They wait and they wait, but unlike Godot, the boss calls and later arrives in town. The boss wants Ken to kill Ray. The reason? Ray goofed up on this last assignment. He was there to kill a priest. He killed the priest but managed to kill a little boy who was in church repenting for his perceived sins. Ouch. It haunts Ray to the extent he wants to kill himself.

It would be easy to describe the plot and from that comes nothing because this film is much more than a simple plot. The question is what is it? What makes it tick? Why is it effective?

At the moment I feel as if I'm at a loss for words.

This film has satire and comedy but it also has gruesome violence. Normally the two don't mix, not with any sense of a just ending and this film has a just ending but there's also an open end.

It's open ended because while we grow to like Ray, our hero, he's an anti-hero. He did kill a six-year old boy even if it wasn't on purpose. We're routing for him even though we know he's fucked up.

By the way, this film is littered with expletives and it pokes fun at itself on that point, but it didn't feel like a swearfest unlike say PULP FICTION. There was a certain rhythm to it all and it elevated it to poetry. I'm not kidding.

This film defies easy description. It truly does.

I was amused and surprised at how Ray and Ken are blunt in their hatred for American tourists. Crass and boring. There is the usual mistaken identity when they meet two Canadians. It plays a pivotal role in the plot attached with a certain irony. Our hero is as flawed as we suspect. Not just smug.

A midget (little person, dwarf, I have no idea what the right terminology is) also plays a role in the story but to understand it you have to watch the entire film to believe it. The ending is set-up, resolves open questions and comes as a surprise. You'll have to watch the film to believe it and understand.

Then there is Ralph Fiennes. We don't see the boss for the first sixty minutes of the film but we hear his voice and see a transcript of his message. I was surprised when this rough, uneducated voice belonged to Fiennes. Hey, that's acting and he pulled it off. I told you I went into this film blind. There is humour by the postscript of the hotel owner on his message. There is irony in the language as Colin Firth says just because we speak with this accent doesn't make us intelligent.

I haven't even mentioned supporting actors who deserve mention.

The film deserves a second viewing and a second commentary because I haven't done it justice. It's one of the best films I've seen in a while and the question is why and I'm not entirely sure.

As part of the opening sequence, the two hit-men visit a museum and view paintings. In one there is a man laid out on a table. He's alive, but the others around him are cutting away his skin. The skin on his lower left leg has been completely pulled away and he's alive. Only a painting in oil, but vivid and gruesome.

As I say, this film defies easy classification and description. That's bad news if you're a marketing executive promoting this film. It's good news if you're a viewer like me and you.

Posted 2009/05/05 at 19h26ET in Movie Commentary.

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