Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In Bruges In Plymouth

Mrs The Millbrooker and I had, before last night, never been to the cinema together. Nor, indeed, separately since we met all-but nine years ago.

This gap in our experience was plugged with an evening outing to Plymouth's The Vue multiplex to see Martin McDonagh's first full-length feature In Bruges.

I'll get on to the film in a mo'. First up, I'll just say that I really didn't like The Vue one little bit. Actually, that's unfair. I liked the big, comfy seats in the auditorium. The atmosphere of being in a place with fifteen screens made me wonder about the general attitude to film. Under those circumstances it can't be thought of as an artistic endeavour; it must simply be "product". How can there possibly be fifteen new(ish) release films worth seeing available at one time? There can't be. Therefore the whole enterprise is entirely commercial - get bums onto seats and to hell with any integrity. The Vue simply reeks of that attitude, and I don't like it. Walking in through its doors is like entering a vast machine which is going to take your money (electronically), show you a product and spit you back out again. The only staff we saw were three selling food and one checking tickets (ONE, for fifteen screens). It's efficient and doubtless profitable but it's also soulless and impersonal.

Let's move on and talk about the film.
The narrative concerns a pair of hit men, hiding out in Bruges after a job that's gone wrong. The casting of Brendan Gleeson as Ken, the calm, old-hand killer opposite Colin Farrell as the dim walking-disaster-area, Ray, is a stroke of genius; the two play off each other beautifully. Somehow, despite the audience knowing what they do for a living and what they've recently done, they're sympathetic characters. Each is played with a light touch and McDonagh's direction allows a high level of comedy through the dark undertones.

On the surface the film is a violent romp of a gangster flick with more than a few belly laughs during which you feel a slight sense that you shouldn't really be finding this funny. Dig a little deeper, though, and it becomes a morality tale; a tale of bonding and one of redemption.

The film has an air of unreality about it. Bruges is referred to several times as like a dream or a fantasy which juxtaposes nicely with the permanent problem in gangster movies, that of unreality. If there's a big shoot out going on in the centre of a town, why aren't there any police around, surely they'd be there PDQ?

Ralph Fiennes gives us a psychotic villain who knowingly refers to the actual process of film scripting, telling an hotelier that "this is the shoot out"; McDonagh including his own pastiche of the genre. Some critics have said that Fiennes is miscast here; I have to disagree. His character is farcically nasty; a caricature of the classic cockney thug with a big house and "principles". He's Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins, Long Good Friday) writ large and taken to new extremes; Fiennes pulls off the trick with aplomb.
More knowledgeable critics than I am have compared McDonagh's work to Quentin Tarantino's, and I can see where they're coming from. It's less gratuitous than Tarantino, though, and somehow warmer in overall feel whilst still allowing glimpses of reality amidst the fantasy.
If you want a rollicking good running-jumping-shooting film, you'll enjoy this one. If you're looking for something deeper within that genre, you'll love it. Martin McDonagh's first major film gets the thumbs up from The Millbrooker.
There are some clips available on the IMDB website which do something to illustrate the tone and style of the dialogue (although the really fruity language is deleted). The first shows a conversation between Ray and Ken over breakfast:
The second is almost surreal as Ken meets a film actor dwarf in a bar:

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