Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Movie review: In Bruges ****

Hit men are people, too, you know. They work hard and, like all of us, need to get away for a little rest and relaxation now and then - especially after a rough job that doesn't go as smoothly as planned.

Irish killers Ray and Ken are happy to leave the U.K. 'til things blow over. They just don't understand why their R&R has to be in the Belgian city of Bruges, but that's the order from Harry in London, and when Harry talks, Ray and Ken listen.

So do we, from beginning to end of this brilliantly tragicomic, darkly existential thriller, recently unveiled as the opening-night feature at the 2008 Sundance Festival.

Irish lowlifes Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), nervously cool their heels as they wait for Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to call from London with further instructions.

Bruges is Europe's most pristinely preserved medieval city, a fairy tale town known as "The Venice of the North" for its lovely canals, superb Gothic churches, and great Flemish art.

This Odd Couple of tourists has a split opinion: Jittery, guilt-ridden Ray instantly hates the creepy place, while gentle Ken - for want of anything better to fill the time - gets into its historicity. But both of them are riveted by Hieronymus Bosch's most famous painting, The Last Judgment, a nightmarish vision of divine retribution full of part-animal, part-vegetable, part-human hybrids.

Bosch's sinner-monsters (the Freudian forerunners of surrealism) seem like hideous reflections of Ray's angst.

Not so coincidentally, a movie company in Bruges is using this mise-en-scene for a film in which everyone is costumed as a Bosch-based monster. Stumbling across the set, Ray encounters the hotly seductive Chloe (Clemence Poesy) and a dwarf actor named Jimmy (Jordan Prentice).

He'll have more success with the former than the latter, plus strange violent interludes with some obnoxious North American tourists.

Everybody's hyper-edgy here except Ken, who mentors Ray in a patient, fatherly way, trying to assuage the younger man's Raskolnikov complex.

But Harry's phone call, when it finally comes, contains crime-and-punishment instructions leading to a very bloody conclusion.

In Bruges was written and directed by multitalented Martin McDonagh, better known as stage playwright of The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman and 2006 Oscar winner for Six Shooter in the best live-action short film category. His script here is full of fabulous characters that are ever so human, despite their inhuman behavior. You can't despise even the most despicable of them, especially Ray.

Farrell plays Ray wonderfully, with those amazing inverted-V worried eyebrows. Gleeson is no less than perfect as his foil. And once he and his face replace his disembodied voice late in the film, Fiennes playing wildly against type as Harry has never been more diabolically evil and funny at the same time. Carter Burwell's excellent musical score augments the impact of every scene.

The uniquely key ingredient, however, is McDonagh's Mamet-esque, profoundly profane dialogue ("A lot of midgets tend to kill themselves," Ray keeps saying), plus the gorgeous but ominous city of Bruges itself perfect for nighttime chases.

It won't give anything away to reveal that Ray killed a priest but not before seeking forgiveness in the confessional from him in advance.

Killingly funny, indeed.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barry Paris is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.

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