Friday, November 28, 2008

Shoot First. Sightsee Later.

In Bruges is not a thriller, is not existential philosophy, is not a travelogue, is not a dark comedy, yet it is a little bit of them all. Two Irish conman are sent to Bruges after a hit goes horribly wrong. A hotel room is booked for them for two weeks; they are waiting for a call from their boss, and till then all they can do is sightseeing. Ray (Colin Ferrell) is young and is probably new to this job; he is impatient since he has come to Bruges and unlike his older and sympathetic partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) has no interest in the medieval history of the land. Ken and Ray loiter around Bruges like tourists, and those initial scenes are eccentrically funny. Bruges is shot beautifully like a video catalogue of some travel agent, but it remains as a backdrop, and by being so opens a window to the psyche of the characters.

They have their suspicion – their boss cannot send them to Bruges just for hiding! Maybe, they will be given some assignment that is to be carried out in Bruges. Who knows? Meanwhile, they come across interesting characters: a dwarf actor shooting for a film that is very much like Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, a blond girl with whom Ray oddly bonds, a pregnant hotel-owner, and a guy named Yuri who does yoga and arranges guns for his clients. One of the conman has hidden sorrows. Maybe, he is trying to cop-up with what has gone wrong; but his eccentricities and absurd behaviors create curiosity in the viewer. You don’t know whether to be happy or sad for him.

Telling more about the film is like telling nothing. It is very much like Glengarry Glen Ross; as in, the story of the film, if told, is so simple that it will not interest anyone to even take a look. Its power lies in the way the characters interact. It entirely depends on how it is written; dialogues here just don’t drag the plot, but triumphantly denies the notion that a film can need a plot. It is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, an established Irish play-writer who like David Mamet (writer of Glengarry Glen Ross) shows uncanny playfulness with words and situations.

The call from Harry (Ralph Fiennes) finally comes one night, and the conversation he has with Ken is really amusing. The task he assigns is difficult to carry. There are ethical choices involved. And after that scene when the call finally ends, you will see how brilliantly the film grabs you till it reaches its unusual and inevitable close. By the time the film ends you might have guessed what is going to happen, but you will not be able to move your eyes away from the screen. Such is the power of its execution. Brendan Gleeson is very convincing as a gentle conman who has seen it all. Also worth mentioning is how Ralph Fiennes makes his character a treat to watch, the conversation he has with Ray near the end of the film with the pregnant lady standing between them is so absorbing. Murders that take place are darkly funny and bear the eccentric logic of the film’s characters. There are twists in the tale like any other thriller; the dialogues flow like they have been written by someone close to the theater of the absurd; but In Bruges is above all an allegory: a beautiful city like Bruges acts as a symbol of ‘waiting’. Maybe hell is on earth and after you have committed a brutal crime, wherever you go, you cannot find solace. You are trapped in the earthy hell, in Bruges.

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