Ray: But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realized, fuck man, maybe that's what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin' Bruges.
Ray is played by Colin Farrell, the Irishman we haven't seen in a while, whose raw talent is, in this film, so raw, in fact, that it often overshadows his sheer, brooding irresistibility. Ray is a hitman who's already botched his first job, and he and his partner, jaded widower Ken (Brendan Gleeson), are subsequently sent into hiding in Bruges. Bruges is a fairy tale sort of place, full of mists and fantastic castles, the most well-preserved midieval town in Belgium. Ken has a quiet excitement about the whole thing. He sees his time in Bruges as a vacation, a moment to relax and to ride down canals, to see wonders made of stone and silver and gold. Ray, on the other hand, has little regard for history. He finds Bruges to be appalling, a cess pool for tedium, the opposite of Dublin or London or anything that thrives. He trails after Ken like a child, storming away when he becomes too bored or too cranky, taking jabs at historical landmarks and mocking Ken's desire to experience culture. In this way, we recognize father and son, the wise and the green. These aspects continue quite strongly throughout, through Bruges and the swelling chemistry it builds. The movie is, essentially, about two hitmen hiding out in a dank and unlikely town. They are to wait there, possibly for two whole weeks, to share a room in a local hotel, and to wait for a call from the boss. During their stay, they run into a movie set. A movie set in Bruges! How fabulous! Ray makes nice with Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), a strange, often intoxicated dwarf who also stars in the film's dream sequence. Ray also meets Chloe (Clemence Poesy), the pretty blond girl who slinks around the set, selling drugs to all the stars. Meanwhile, Ken gets his call from the boss, and, well, surprise! The Bruges outing was not merely a hide-away plot. Ken is to off Ray due to the mishap in the church, and Ken, shocked, terrified, reluctantly obliges. We stare wide-eyed and clutch our cheeks with dismay, but what is a hitman to do? When a hitman is told to hit, he hits. It's a job.
But while watching In Bruges, we learn: it's not just a job, because unlike so many other films about people wacking other people for money, the characters in this film have guts and hearts and souls and pasts, and there are things at stake that so many of us could never dream of understanding. Ken has followed a lone and deadly path, and he has learned to accept his fate. At one poignant moment, we listen closely as he describes the murder of his wife, and we can see the conflict, the sort of pain that comes etched in the bones. And Brendan Gleeson is just so good. He can alter gravity, turn from rough stone to a red bow tie, all with the flit of an eyelid. His weathered disposition is complimented, then, by the brutish sweet of Colin Farrell, whose character has only just begun to endure the pain that Ken has wielded for his entire adult existence.
Much of In Bruges focuses on Ray's inexperience, his youthful perspective and naivete, and how these qualities can leave him fresh and vulnerable to self-torment--especially in the wake of a recent mishap in the field. A few scenes into the movie, we learn about Ray's first hit, a gallant priest-hacking mid-confession, and how that hit went terribly, terribly wrong. Several fatal gunshots in, the priest hits the floor (success), only to reveal the form of a second casualty. Kneeling there, before an army of flickering candles, is a little boy, his face pale, mouth slightly open, a gunshot hole between his eyes. There is Ray, a daft and wounded child himself, staring blankly then, as the little boy crumples to the floor. And even though the boy is dead, and Ray killed him, and Ray is, by way of society, the worst sort of person there is, we, as an audience support him. We see the interchanging hues of fear and heartbreak in his eyes, how he shifts around behind them like a tired infant. "Save the next boy," Ken pleads, and as the tears come down Ray's cheeks and the little kids play in the park, the film becomes stunningly human. It is funny and it is dark, but the core has blood and guts. It is its own underbelly, set in the scenic romp of Bruges.
Finally, we're met with the boys' serpentine boss, Harry, who is played with creepy precision by Ralph Fiennes. No surprise there. Harry is twitchy and obsessive, unrelenting but twinkling with loopholes and, yes, an honorable man. Harry would not be so frightening, say, if Kenneth Brannaugh were to play the part, or, god forbid, Dustin Hoffman. It doesn't matter how much sleeze you can pack or shit you can fling, when it comes to tight-lipped businessmen with handsome faces and ulterior motives, Ralph is your guy. At the end of this movie, I stood up and looked over at my boyfriend, and we raised our eyebrows, and I said to him, "Ralph Fiennes scares me. I bet he's a very nice man in real life, but if I were to ever see him on the street, I would probably run away." There's not a hint of pervert, not a whiff of lunacy, just neatly pressed, overly calm intimidation. And to a movie that's otherwise, generally quite sweet, he brings a sense of darkened paranoia.
In Bruges is endowed with a wealth of talent. The performances brought me to quaint, silly smiles, sometimes to tears, so often to gut-clutching laughter. I loved it. Its soundtrack is lush with dejected classical tunes, slow turns on the piano that swell with something like regret. In Bruges is filled with irony. It has moments of sheer parallelism that might, in any other movie, seem overdone and under-thought. The characters are also filled with conflicting traits. Ray is impulsive and crass, violent and rude, but at the same time, he is soft enough to the win the heart of beautiful temptress Chloe. Ken is deadpan, jaded, and brazen, but he takes in Ray with such tender understanding. It is all written so well. I only wish there were more films as marvelous as In Bruges, films that regard their setting as if it were a character itself and that regard their characters as if the pasts they've derived from matter just as much as the present. It made me smile and cry and wonder. You'll see what I mean. Because the end is an entity all on its own, one that will stagger and stun, but, unlike so many blase dramas this side of the millenium, it's twist-free.
Plus, if there's anything I really, really want to do now, it's get on a plane, have a hearty scotch ale, and go to Bruges.