Judge Gordon Sullivan would like a vacation in Bruges, but without hitmen.
"I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't."— Ray (Colin Farrell)
For much of the 2000s, Colin Farrell was just another pretty face. All I ever heard about him concerned his sexy looks and hard-partying ways. The few of his films I saw (Alexander, Miami Vice), seemed to confirm that directors were hiring him for his jawline and not his acting chops. Then along came In Bruges, and suddenly Colin Farrell went from Hollywood heartthrob to serious actor in my eyes. Of course it helped that he was starring in a whip-smart black comedy (one of my favorites), and is supported by a round of other talented actors. Now those who missed this independent gem in its almost-nonexistent theatrical run (or its previous DVD) can enjoy this darkly comic tale of hitmen/tourists in a wonderful hi-def package as In Bruges (Blu-ray).
Facts of the Case
Ray (Colin Farrell, Alexander) screwed up his last hit (which also happened to be his first). Now his boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes, The Constant Gardener) has paid for Ray and his fellow hitman/friend Ken (Brendan Gleeson, Gangs of New York) to the idyllic medieval town of Bruges, in Belgium. Although Harry thinks he's doing the pair a favor, Ray hates it there. Things get dicey as Ray feels guilty over botching the job, Harry wants him to pay, and Ken is stuck in the middle.
In Bruges is really two films in one. The first half or so follows Ray and Ken around the beautiful city of Bruges. Ray hates it, while Ken is more susceptible to the city's charms. Together the pair encounter a series of strange people, including overweight American tourists, a Canadian midget (or is it dwarf?), and a beautiful drug dealer. This part of the film is weighted more towards the comic, as Ray and Ken banter about Bruges' merits, what their banishment to the city might mean, and how Ray is dealing with his role as a hitman.
The film's second half doesn't abandon the comic—the banter is still there, but this time generally between Ken and Harry—but it does turn up the action dial as Ken tries to interfere with Harry's plans for Ray. Bruges transforms from an idyllic village full of old buildings and beautiful vistas into a European OK Corral as the three men fight for their lives. In keeping with the rest of the film, the ending is both funny and tragic, and on my fourth viewing has only gotten better.
In Bruges is all the more impressive for being the debut of writer/director Martin McDonagh. His direction of everything from intimate conversations to citywide gun battles is surprisingly assured. The strength of his screenwriting abilities is shown by the caliber of cast he got to sign on for a film with a limited budget given the scope of the script. It was a success all around, as Farrell, Gleeson, and Fiennes bring McDonagh's work off the page with alarming ease. Farrell makes his Ray both a tough guy (I wouldn't want to mess with him in a bar fight) and a bit daft without sacrificing his likeability. He knows when to go for a bit of vulnerability (like when he exclaims, childlike, to Ken, "They're filming midgets!"). Gleeson's Ken is part sage father figure, part piss-taking drinking buddy. He exudes the kind of calm one looks for in a hitman, without being cold or calculating about it. In contrast, Fiennes plays Harry a bit distantly, as a man who is used to getting his way. But even he gives Harry enough warmth to keep him from being the soulless villain of the piece.
Despite a solid cast of recognizable names (and an Oscar nomination for McDonagh's screenplay), In Bruges was criminally underseen when it came out in America, but it did receive a fine DVD release. Now the film has received the full hi-def treatment. The results of this VC-1 encoded transfer can be a bit difficult to judge, especially if viewers are looking for a pristine, big-budget film. McDonagh has a slightly grittier look in mind, with lots of shots using the available lights of Bruges—even indoor shots are a bit "underlit" by Hollywood standards. However, as far as preserving the look of the film, this transfer is top notch. Despite the darker scenes, black levels are strong and consistent, noise is kept to a minimum, and there are no compression artifacts of note. The film's colors are similarly solid, and detail is impressive throughout. This transfer is so good, in fact, that I realized that some of the film's scenes are slightly soft, and more importantly, it looks intentional. The film's audio track is also impressive. Dialogue is the key to this film, and it's handled ably by the center channel, leaving the surrounds for bits of atmosphere and the occasional directional effect. It's not completely enveloping, but it does the film proud.
Extras start with 18 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, along with a gag reel, both ported over from the previous DVD. Also returning is a six-minute featurette that gives viewers a bit of a boat ride around Bruges. The film is also D-Box motion control enabled.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In Bruges is a love-it or hate-it film. McDonagh is playing to the cheap seats with pitch-black comedy, senseless violence, and loads of cursing. If those things are likely to tickle your funny bone, then In Bruges is for you. If it's not, then even the excellent acting won't save this one. The film is also about as far as it can get from being politically correct. Ray gleefully makes fun of midgets, fat people, and the citizens of Bruges—those with a mind to be offended will find something here.
It's also totally strange that some of the featurettes went missing for this hi-def release. We don't get the making-of, nor the collection of interviews with the actors discussing the city, nor the compilation of the film's curse words.
In Bruges is a dark, funny film that looks at friendship, loyalty, and killing, all in the context of one of Europe's more scenic cities. The mix of violence and comedy might not be to everyone's taste, but for this viewer, discovering In Bruges was like finding a kindred spirit. Even with the missing extras, the increase in audio and video quality makes this one easy to recommend as an upgrade for existing fans. For those new to the film, this Blu-ray is the perfect way to experience an overlooked gem.
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