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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
IN BRUGES
at movie houses

BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY
By Robert Cashill

  Colin Farrell

The well-worn hit man genre gets off another shot with In Bruges . It's hard to work up much interest in yet another picture where contract assassins pack hearts as well as heat there's roughly one every few weeks, alternating with serial killer movies. What gives it some cachet with theatergoers is that its writer-director is Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar for a prior short film, Six Shooter, but is best known for slashing yarns like The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore on and off Broadway.

The Irish playwright's fierce and funny plays shake up the stage, and have invigorated every season they played. We aren't used to seeing and hearing such fookin' around on stage, and the rivers of blood washed away the sanctimony and sentiment of the usual run of shows. Some of them might make good movies-better than In Bruges, a feature film debut that feels second-hand, like the scores of Pulp Fiction knockoffs from the mid-Nineties that continue to haunt cable stations in the small hours.

The set-up is basic. Middle-aged widower Ken (Brendan Gleeson ) and his protege in murder-for-hire, Ray (Colin Farrell) are dispatched to the medieval Belgian city to wind down after a botched assignment in London. The sights entrance Ken Ray, bored with churches, is more taken with a movie set (they're filming midgets!) and a young woman (Clemence Poesy) at apparent loose ends amidst the tourist trade. Why the two killers, who show softer sides, are there comes into focus: their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), wants Ken to send Ray, whose conscience is troubled by their dirty work, on a permanent vacation. But Ken has other plans, and the inevitable showdown is underway.

McDonagh's imprint can be seen in the odd line or situation, as the real and the reel fuse, in Fellini-esque fashion. But much of his script (somewhat lighter on bloodshed than his plays) feels calculated to shock. The midget being filmed, American film star Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), is unmasked as a racist during a coke-fueled party, as if McDonagh, knowing that the mere presence of a short arse (as Ray calls him) isn't enough to unsettle us, needed to give him some other tic to refresh the cliche. There is no refreshing the cliché of nice-guy killers, however, no matter that Gleeson and especially Farrell are congenial company. In Bruges and in Woody Allen's limp Cassandra's Dream, Farrell shows promise as a quicksilver character actor after a run of unfortunate, career-unmaking leads, and is the best reason to see the picture. (Like his writer and director, Fiennes tries too hard to be blustery and profane.)

Crucially, McDonagh doesn't get enough mileage out of the host city, a heaven-hell for the two men that should be as much a character in the story as Vienna in The Third Man or Venice in Don't Look Now, two other films that must have been on his syllabus as he planned his own. Confined by the proscenium arch, places like Inishmore and Leenane took on lives of their own. But the camera never really situates Bruges. At age 36, McDonagh has made his mark on the theater the cinema awaits a keener eye and a far more diverting subject.

 


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