Monday, February 16, 2009

Bad boy done good

I've never considered Colin Farrell to be a particularly good actor (even in the overblown epic movie Alexander), so I was surprised he had been nominated for, and then went on to win, the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for In Bruges. I had never even heard of the film, and I didn't even know what the heck "Bruges" was, or how to pronounce it for that matter.

As it turns out, Bruges ("broozh") is a small town in Belgium, and In Bruges is one heck of a funny yet unexpectedly touching dark comedy. I can't recall the last time I watched something that had me laughing out loud, then welling up with tears 5 seconds later, more than once throughout the film, mostly thanks to Farrell's brilliant turn as rookie hitman Ray. When he botches his first assignment, Ray is ordered by his boss Harry (the very fine Ralph Fiennes, spewing invectives in an incongruous but impeccable Cockney accent) to hide out in Bruges along with veteran hitman Ken (Brendan Gleeson). The older, more mild-mannered Ken is enchanted by the fairy-tale medieval town, but high-strung Ray considers it hell on earth, especially since he is going through his own personal hell after he screwed up big-time in London. The odd couple's time together in quaint, tranquil Bruges becomes an opportunity for introspection and unlikely bonding, but when Harry comes to hunt them down, things spiral as crazily as the staircase of Bruge's belltower.

Farrell and Gleeson make a delightful tandem, with Gleeson's Ken showing at first exasperation with, then protectiveness toward his young cohort, and Farrell's Ray being a smartass one minute and a vulnerable kid the next.
It's their chemistry that make their characters-- criminal as they are-- sympathetic and likeable. In Bruges is also an intriguing study of the twisted morality and principles of men who murder; even Fiennes' ruthless Harry adheres to a strange brand of honor that suggests the existence of a shred of human decency in even the most hardened killer. This film's Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay is well-deserved, but its punch might not pack as much oomph with Academy voters as Milk, also up for an Oscar in the same category.

Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed In Bruges. Like the town in which it's set, the movie is unassuming yet endearing, and deceptively simple, yet complex with layers of meaning. Similarly, and most significantly, it was refreshing to watch Colin Farrell deliver such a layered, prepossessing performance; I actually found him even better than Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button. It will be interesting to see how Farrell fares in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as one of Heath Ledger's substitutes, now that I've seen how he shines in In Bruges.


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