Monday, July 14, 2008

IN BRUGES

"If I was retarded and grew up on a farm, it would impress me. But I wasn't, and it doesn't."

I saw a movie many years ago a first film that I thought showed great promise, about a group of criminals preparing to execute a heist. It was a fascinating movie, filled with very fine acting, a great twisty story, and a fine bitter aftertaste: it really felt like it was on to something about the real darkness lurking in the crime film genre. The movie was called RESERVOIR DOGS, and I couldn't wait to see what the director/writer would do next. Since then, of course, Quentin Tarantino hasn't really progressed: the genuine darkness of DOGS was replaced with the smirking hipness of PULP FICTION and the flat-out silliness of the KILL BILL diptych. Crime films in general have taken a decided turn for the worse post-PULP FICTION, all hip slick attitude and narrative gamesmanship: it took Steven Soderbergh to restore humanity to the mix with OUT OF SIGHT, a movie that seems to have slipped from the general radar.

Tarantino only comes to my mind these days when I see the work of Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright and now filmmaker whose work I am becoming helplessly addicted to. McDonagh's play THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE is shocking and hilarious and vastly entertaining on the subject of the sheer stupidity of violence and the violent, exactly the kind of work I was expecting from the Tarantino of RESERVOIR DOGS. I saw LIEUTENANT twice on Broadway and started kicking myself for having missed his earlier work like THE PILLOWMAN. When I heard McDonagh was making a feature film, I started counting the days.

And it was worth the wait. Martin McDonagh's IN BRUGES is a fascinating little movie that managed to slip through the cracks when it was released earlier this year. It tells the story of two hitmen played by Brendan Gleason and Colin Farrell who are on holiday in Bruges. Gleason wants to sightsee, and Farrell wants to do anything but. There's a good deal of very entertaining bickering, Gleason and Farrell playing beatifully off of each other. It gradually surfaces that Farrell is dealing with a significant burden of guilt over a hit that went hideously wrong. It isn't long before a phone call comes from their boss (played by Ralph Fiennes with all the vicious madness that is so sorely lacking in his Voldemort) with some instructions. There's some fun involving a film being shot on location, too.

A reasonably alert audience member could probably forecast a good deal of what comes after, but McDonagh keeps the story lively and the talk livelier. There's a certain leisure to the storytelling that might keep folks wondering what the hell is going on, but this isn't a tightly constructed heist flick. These guys are on vacation, they're taking stock of their lives and aren't exactly happy with what they find. The action might slow down a bit here and there, but it does so in the interest of good old fashioned character development, in showing me who these people are and why they are doing what they are doing. I found it irresistible and even moving.

A cool little movie. I can't wait for McDonagh's next work. I'm counting, starting now.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You neglect to mention Tarantino's finest work post "Reservoir Dogs:" "Jackie Brown," a film quite unlke anything else he's done. First off, he spends almost the first hour just establishing the characters, and his direction of Pam Grier borders, justifiably, on worship: she is a goddess. This is by far his most human film, a damned good story, magnificent performances down the line, and a heroine who is one of the most endearing to hit the screen in years.

The other stuff? You're right: crap (especialy the egregiously overrathed "Kill Bill" flicks). "Pulp Fiction" does have its entertaining moments, but one is constantly aware of its unrnelenting desire to be "hip."

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