“We Shall Strike a Balance Between Culture and Fun” – In Bruges (2008)
*CAUTION! Here be spoilers, and they’re filming midgets*
By pure chance, within a few days of each other, I ended up watching two films set in Belgium.
With both Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and Marc Didden’s Istanbul, I got some pretty dark shit played out in the most beautiful of settings, and now feel depressed just thinking about it.
In Bruges fucked me over a little. Maybe it was the marketing. You go in expecting hilarity and get shafted. Not that it isn’t funny, because there’s some great dialogue and a lot of comedy, but it has a very dark heart at it’s centre. Harsher elements and happenings wrapped up in jokes that you kind of feel guilty laughing about. It’ll no doubt stand in years to come as a quotable film, and be on many top ten lists, but no amount of humour can lift the bizarre sense of sadness this film left me with.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hitmen hiding out in Bruges after a job. Gleeson’s Ken seems quiet and wise, perfect counterpoint to Farrell’s jumpy and fed-up Ray. Both initially seem likeable characters. Ken for his patience, Ray for his childlike daftness and straightforward, politically incorrect manner. I liked his obsession with midgets being suicidal, “like that one off Fantasy Island.”
Only when it becomes clear why they’re hiding out in the first place do things go downhill for me. It’s a bugger, because I was really starting to like In Bruges, but when I’m expected to believe that a man dealing with the guilt of killing a child can go out dating and joke about beer being “gay” or “normal” the problem starts. I’ll hold my suspension of disbelief up for time travel and the dead being resurrected more easily than for the type of reaction Ray has to what he‘s done. Farrell’s character is written to be likeable, and while there’s some remorse, it’s dealt with in a strange way. Yeah, I know he wants to kill himself, but he’s also still trying to get his leg over. Jesus fucking Christ. Maybe I’m just the wrong person to be watching a comedy centred around the death of a child, but then I start asking myself who would write a comedy centred around the death of a child. Nothing against Martin McDonagh, because judging the reactions of others, it seems there’s a market for it. I’m just confused by it, that’s all. Don’t hold it against me; I like some off kilter stuff, I just can’t connect with this particular mixture. That’s where the guilt angle for me comes in – I know the dialogue and events should make me laugh, but the backstory stops me.
Ken and Ray’s boss, Harry Waters, seems to be the only character with a full sense of perspective on the events, ie rather than kicking about round bars and canals, he’s raging. Cue Ralph Fiennes breezing in like a reject from a Ben Kingsley/Sexy Beast factory production line to sort shit out. No offence to Fiennes, just the character seems overly familiar. In his opinion, Ray has to be punished for his actions, accidental or not. If he’d done the same, he’d have shot himself on the spot. Ken would rather Ray be given a second chance and in going against the wishes of Waters, seals his eventual fate. It’s a sad ending for Ken, choosing to sacrifice himself for the future of what appears to be a bit of an idiot. A bloody, horrific scene follows, only made worse by the fairytale fog and main square decked out in all it’s seasonal glory.
The demise of Waters was a nice touch, but seemed a little too neat. Indeed, here is a man who can’t go back on his word. Bet you wish you hadn’t bought those exploding bullets, eh Harry? For here the truth now lies obscured…
…and Ray? The ending could be viewed as akin to one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ or ‘choose your own adventure’ books. Like the character? Turn to page 32 and in your head he makes it. Hate the bastard? Turn to 33 and imagine him dying in agony. I don’t fucking know what I’d prefer. Ray’s a puzzling character. His actions are a little disconcerting. You never know, I could end up with a different viewpoint next time.
Like fighting fantasy.
I can’t comment on any of McDonagh’s other work, but I understand that with his stage plays he likes to confront the audience with shocking and controversial material. The dialogue was good, but hard to believe given the situation. He confused me, but he also portrayed Bruges in the most gorgeous of lights.
Harry Waters was right, it does look like a fucking fairytale.
Two films. One country. Two dead children. At least Marc Didden’s killer knows a little more about remorse and punishment, but that’ll have to wait for another night. There’s only so much downbeat hell and redemption I can handle in one sitting. Really want to go to Belgium though. Just don’t think I’d have to kill someone to end up there.