03 August, 2008

Juju-flop, Swut, and Turlingdrome

So here's the thing.

For me, with one day and two films left to go in the film festival, In Bruges (see the trailer here) has possibly been the most enjoyable film of the festival. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as a couple of hitmen who, having just completed a job, are instructed to get the hell out of the UK, go to Bruges, do a bit of sightseeing, and wait for further instructions. This obviously raises one important question:

"Where the f*ck is Bruges?"

So they go, and they sightsee. Gleeson is completely entraced by this gorgeous city, but Farrell is less impressed. He grew up in Dublin, he's not going to be impressed by Bruges. So basically, it's a nice sightseeing film with an odd couple at the centre. And then, once the call with further instructions comes in, it gets violent, lots of running around in the street shooting people and the like. In other words, as a film about sightseeing hitmen, plotwise there's not much about the film that will surprise you. No developments to cause you to say "I didn't see that coming". The film is exactly what you expect.

Except funny. I can see this becoming one of those films, like The Big Lebowski, that acquires a huge and dedicated cult following. And that is largely because of the script, sharply written with a keen ear for hilarious and quotable dialogue, and a wry awareness of the absurdity of your typical action film (one character, trying to get a gun, is offered an Uzi, and has to point out that he's not from Los Angeles and doesn't really need a machine gun). But, in addition to being achingly funny, the script is incredibly tight. It's rare to find a film that is this well scripted. There are no convenient outs, seemingly unimportant throwaway lines ultimately prove essential in unexpected ways, and almost every character in the film plays an essential role in moving the film to its conclusion.

But a tight, well-written script like this doesn't work if you don't have the cast to make it work. Colin Farrell is a revelation here - we knew he was a talented actor, but I don't think we've ever seen him be this funny before. With the wrong actor, the role wouldn't work at all well - he's supposed to be the sympathetic core of the film, yet he's a professional killer who alternates between being deliberately offensive and behaving like a petulant child on a family holiday. But with an actor of Colin Farrell's natural charisma, the audience genuinely loves him despite his many flaws and minimal merits. Farrell works well with Brendan Gleeson, an actor who doesn't get enough respect. Gleeson is the straight-man in this comedy duo, constantly enraptured by this incredible city and frustrated by Farrell's inability to appreciate anything around him. He's also tasked with providing the moral centre of the film, making a number of extremely difficult choices throughout the film, and Gleeson nicely underplays those situations.

The third character in the film is the city. And you've got to respect any film that would decide to set itself in Bruges. It's hardly a well-known city - I expect a huge proportion of the audience would be asking along with Colin Farrell just where the city is (indeed, one of the posters for the film actually included a note in parentheses explaining where Bruges was). But the decision to set it in a relatively unknown city pays off, as we're confronted with images I've never seen on screen before. And Bruges is a beautiful city - they describe it in the film as being like something out of a fairy tale, which it is, but there's a nicely dark gothic feel that seems to run through the place as well. You'll find yourself wanting to jump on a plane and fly straight there, just to see it for yourself. Certainly I would have been quite happy if the entire film had just involved travelling around seeing the sights with these two characters.

So when the ending came, and it was the typical ending to a hitman movie - people running around shooting at each other, albeit in Bruges this time - it was almost disappointing, almost like it had come out of a different film. It wasn't a bad ending, in fact, in a lot of ways it was actually a perfect ending. It's just that tonally it felt a little over-the-top compared to the rest of the film. But that's really just quibbling, since the whole hitman element was pretty integral to the film right from the start.

The truth is, it's a really well-made, funny, intelligent film, exploring a beautiful city with a couple of characters you can't help liking. I look forward to revisiting the film, again and again and again.

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