In Brugesrecommended viewing

You have to stick to your principles
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2008
Director: 
Martin McDonagh
Starring: 
Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
The Setup: 
Two hit men have to hide out in Bruges after a botched murder.
Discussion: 

The trailer for this movie made it look like an idiotic piece of crap, but it's actually a somber, meditative dark comedy about crimes that are supposedly beyond the pale, even for contract killers, and has a great little twist that sets the story in motion. With a great performance by Colin Farrell.

I've always thought one of the most frustrating things for a filmmaker must be when you make a fairly serious movie, only to have your distributor's marketing department decide that no one would want to see THAT movie, so they create a trailer that makes it look like something entirely other than what it is. Thus everyone who wanted to see the movie advertised in the trailer are disappointed, and tell their friends that it sucked, and those who would have liked to see the movie it actually turns out to be stay away. And all to try to dupe in the most suckers on opening weekend. Such was the fate of this film, which was advertised as a wacky, Tarantino-lite violent comedy, when actually it's a still funny but deeply serious movie about grief and morality. I had to be forced into watching it originally, based on how flat-out dumb the trailer made it look, and it took several recommendations of the "No, it's actually good" variety to get me to agree to watch it.

Turns out it IS good. And because of this movie, which makes a joke of the fact that Bruges is gorgeous but there's nothing to do there, I actually decided to stop in Bruges on my trip to the Netherlands last April. Turns out Bruges is even more gorgeous in reality than the movie makes it out to be, and small enough that when I re-watched this movie recently, I recognized a lot of the sights I had actually seen in person while there. One of the things I saw was this golden retriever that likes to sit in a window over one of the canals, and surprise, there is a cutaway of the same dog, in the same window, in the movie! Look at the pictures; the one above is a still from the movie, and the one below I took with my own camera!

So we meet these two guys, Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, and Ray, played by Colin Farrell. We soon surmise that they are criminals, and have been ordered to hide out in Bruges after a botched crime back home. They check into their appointed hotel, where they are to await a call from their boss. In the meantime, Ken wants to sightsee, and drags Ray along, despite Ray's incessant whining that the place is a shithole. Ray is only interacts in drinking and other, more immediate pleasures, and finds all the medieval buildings and artwork a total bore. We soon learn that Ray was to assassinate this priest, but when he did, a bullet went astray and killed a young boy who was praying. We see a note with topics the boy was praying about, including that he should try to be a good boy. Ray's sarcastic exterior hides the fact that he is eaten up with guilt over ending the boy's life, and believes himself doomed to hell or at least purgatory, which he believes he deserves for his unforgivable crime.

SPOILERS > > >
While Ray is out, Ken gets a call from Harry, their boss, played by Ralph Fiennes. Harry sent the two to Bruges so Ray could see the wonderful town during his last few days, because he wants Ken to kill Ray. It is supposed to be darkly comic that Bruges was supposed to be a special treat for a Ray's final days, while in reality he hates the town. Ken goes to pick up a gun to do the job. In here, Harry, who had this warped mobster's morality, says that Ray must die because he killed a child, and that if Harry himself had killed a child, he would have killed himself on the spot.

In the meantime, Ray has met a woman and scored a bunch of drugs, in circumstances that are all woven into the story, but are too disparate for me to try to describe here. Ken finds Ray in a playground, and comes up from behind to kill Ray, when Ray holds a gun to his head and threatens to kill himself. Ken stops him--the irony that Ken was supposed to kill him anyway--and decides to defy Harry and put Ray on a train to destinations unknown. He does, and calls Harry to tell him what happened... that he couldn't kill Ray because he is truly sorry, and deserves a chance to repent and change. Harry gets on the next plane to come finish the job himself.

Unbeknownst to them both, Ray is arrested and returned to town. Harry finds Ken and they have numerous moral discussions, Harry planning to kill Ken, but not being able to--until he learns that Ray is still right there in town. It all wraps up into a protracted finale that is satisfying and filled with all the same complex ironies the entire movie has been filled with.
< < < SPOILERS END

It's good, and it actually seems better when you're coming in expecting the silly comedy it is advertised as. Turns out it's not flippant as it looks, but deep, dark and suffused with sorrow. It benefits from excellent performances throughout, but especially by Farrell, who successfully brings to life a man who is not a particularly bright bulb, and torments himself even more rigorously because he doesn't have the intellect to think himself through the situation. Gleeson is good in a solid but less showy role, and Fiennes is typically perfect as a borderline psychotic mob boss with a stringent, though completely warped, sense of morality. And it has a nice, contemplative score that brings out the thoughtfulness of the whole thing.

My only reservation is that it does go on just a tad bit too long. The final shootout is protracted to the length that interest starts to flag at the very moment it should be more focused. But a small complaint, and for a first time film director, Martin McDonagh (primarily known as an acclaimed playwright) has done an excellent job and shows no unfamiliarity with the form.

So there you go, an unexpectedly good, thoughtful movie, despite how awful the trailer makes it look.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, especially if you like complicated, psychological crime dramas.