In Bruges. Directed by Martin McDonough (who also wrote it). Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jordan Prentice, Clémence Poésy (who?) and Thekla Reuten (see if can you figure out who she plays and oh, yeah… name two Belgian actresses: ready, go!).
You can go to the Web (if you’re inclined to that sort of thing) and call up a page called “Blagues Belges” where you’ll find all the latest Belgian jokes, which the French tell much as we (used to) relate jokes about the Polish or the Irish or the Italians …or worse. Comment rendre fou un Belge? On le met dans une chambre ronde et on lui dit qu’il y a des frites dans le coin! Ark ark! See, the Belgians invented the french fry, sooo… Anyhow. Guess you hadda be there. All right. Try this one: What’s Belgium known for? Answer: Child molestation and chocolate… and they only came up with the chocolate to get at the children. Ouch. Not so funny? There is, then, a darker side to this mysterious “low country” (remember that Dr. Evil comes from Bruges… and that Mini-Me loves chocolate even if Scottie don’t), certainly for extra-continentals of the British persuasion and in this case a couple of dumbo Irish miscreants, decidedly un-persuaded by the British persuasion. Ray (Colin Farrell, reverting blessedly and competently to Irish-ness after a couple of unhappy adventures in Gringo-dom and a reaaaaaaaally unhappy one in Persia mouth-kissing Macedonians: o, muisha, muisha…) and Ken (Gleeson, who’s bulked up into a fleshy bourgeois and settled languidly into a sort of benign loutitude that’s not unbecoming… notably to those of us settling languidly into benign loutitude) wash up in Bruges mostly against their will and their better judgment but on the orders of purveyor (no last names) Harry (Fiennes, reverting to some kind of I guess it’s faithful Yorkshire/Midlands/cockney lowbrow English for this one and trying hard to shake the fop—or toff, I always get those mixed up—image he’s cultivated, for instance in The English Patient. Michael Caine (Sleuth, the original), Terrence Stamp (The Limey), Sir Ben (Sexy Beast) retreat to Blighty every so often, testimony to their breadth as ac-toors, one dares to suppose. On the other hand, Gleeson and Farrell are Irish dumbos and deliver with the authenticity of autochthonity… and to exquisite effect here. The brilliance is letting them be.
Anyhow. Ray and Ken, an odd couple, get stuck not merely in Bruges but in the same hotel room (it’s Christmas or whatever passes for that in Belgium …Krisskringliijdaage, I think it is with maybe a coupla more i’s and a handful of those Haagen Dasz slashes and ooopslauts or is that Danish what’s the difference, anyhow?) where they proceed to gnaw upon each other’s nerves in the hush of tranquil Belgian mists and above the muffled tread of Belgians somberly going about their Belgian business along the canals. Ken, the older of the two, fancies taking in the sights of this Medieval town, the cloisters, the statuary, the cathedral with its soaring tower (where much of the action will play out, tellingly). Ray can’t abide that stuff. He sulks and scowls, sunken in morose reflection on a botched hit he’s executed where an innocent victim took a bullet legitimately destined for a priest (legitimate in Harry’s mind at any rate). “Maybe I’d enjoy Bruges… if I was retarded… and raised on a farm,” he laments; “But I wasn’t… and I’m not… so I don’t.”
Soon enough, though, it emerges why the guys have been dispatched to Bruges: That’s where Ken is expected to snuff Ray on account of the bungled assassination. We can’t have innocents struck down. There is (a kinda) hono(u)r among gunmen. Ken, though, kinda likes Ray and doesn’t do the deed. Instead he and Ray spend a night drinking beer and swapping Lumpenproletariat theory with a racist, sizeist dwarf (Jordan Prentice, terrific in this role after which see The Station Agent: same theme, different dwarf), whereupon he plumps Ray onto a train for Osteennddeseediijk. Alas, Ray has fabricated for himself his own destiny, bound to that of a Belgian girl Chloé (Clémence Poésy, an apposite enough moniker: she responds to Ray’s Irish poetics and offers him a kind of clemency, salvation), whom Ray has defended by clouting a “Canadian” (neither Canada nor Belgium comes off well in this flick. Canada joke: In 1956 when Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue was number one on the Hit Parade in the United States, what song was number one on the hit Parade in Canada? Answer: I dunno… but six months later, it was Peggy Sue. Ark ark!) in a local resto. Ray gets dragged off the train and back to Bruges by the Riiijjkspolizzeii where an outraged Harry—along with the outage-ed (former) boyfriend of Chloé—waits, armed with dum-dums and a 1911A1, to kill him once and for all… and to exact from Ken while he’s at it retribution for the latter’s disobedience.
Well, here come a big Christmas eve showdown and shootout in the narrow stone-paved alleys of Bruges, where tragedy clouds what’s been a comedy of errors so far and where an improbable but probably satisfying dénouement (big one, too) lurks in the fog. How can a man atone for a past forfeit, for the sacrifice of an innocent, Ray wants to know? Question we all might ask. Find another innocent, whispers Ken gently, and do it right this time. Okay, but… ouch!
This flick blew through theaters with almost no notice… the fate of good little films fulla Irishness and naughty words speaking of which after you catch In Bruges on DVD go to Amazon.com and order (your video place won’t have it for the reason adduced above) The General with Farrell and Gleeson (the original of the not-that-bad-either Kevin Spacey remake called Ordinary Decent Criminal) aaaaaaaas …two dumbo Irish miscreants.