By Vic Holtreman
Short version: While the individual parts of the movie satisfy, In Bruges doesn't really come together as a whole.
Back in November I posted the trailer to In Bruges and commented that it looked like a movie that would not be a hit with mainstream audiences but those that like indie movies would probably love it. Well I just watched it and I'm more certain than ever that my first reaction will turn out to be accurate.
Right from the opening frame of the movie it seems that the director is intent on keeping the audience off-balance. The camera pans across various landmarks and streets in the beautiful town of Bruges, Belgium with music that sounds like it comes from some French romance movie. But as this is happening, we get quick cuts to the two main characters, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) making funny comments profusely laced with the F-bomb.
It wasn't the F-word or the humor that struck me as odd, heck, I thought Superbad was really funny - it was the incongruity of the scenery and music against what the actors were saying and doing. On a side note, if profanity in films bothers you, this is SO not the movie for you...
It turns out that the two fellows are British assassins just coming off a job, and have been ordered to go to Bruges to hide out for a couple of weeks. While older Ken enjoys the beauty and history of the town, Ken is completely and utterly uninterested. While Ken seems to be as much a mentor as a partner to Ray, the younger half of this duo reminded me of a pesky five year old boy - kind of like Dennis the Menace after too much sugar.
They run into an interesting cast of characters in town including the tough and beautiful pregnant woman who owns the hotel where they're staying, a beautiful drug-dealing young woman who catches Ray's eye, and a midget (sorry, dwarf) who has a taste for prostitutes.
Also appearing later in the film (although his expletive-laced voice is heard early on) is Ralph Fiennes as the man who is in charge of telling them who they need to kill and when. Fiennes did a great job in the role with an intensity that would unleash itself with great ferocity. I also enjoyed both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson was just peaceful to watch, if that makes any sense, and Farrell was the polar, manic opposite. His face was a rubber mask of expressions that was very entertaining to see.
There were also many very funny moments in the film including one scene where Farrell decks a guy he thinks is an American and right afterwards says: "That's for John Lennon." But then part way through the movie the tone changes abruptly into a much darker and tragic mode. Humor is still sprinkled throughout after this turn, but when you laugh at this point it's almost more like nervous laughter, just to release the tension of what you're watching.
So here's the thing: This movie has a ton of what I think is really good stuff as far as script, acting, humor and drama. So why the relatively low rating? As much as I enjoyed the individual moments in the movie, for me it just didn't gel as a whole. I really wish that the film had picked a course and stayed on it. Personally, when a movie starts out funny and then suddenly changes course into tragedy I just feel like I'm being manipulated, and it's jarring.
Yes, fine, maybe that's the point - but I don't have to like it.
While I think In Bruges won't be embraced by the average movie goer, I think that people who are really into indie films or movies that shift tone suddenly somewhere in the middle will like this.