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The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Crime Movies
by Howard Hughes
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
In an irrestibly dark, comedic take on the gang who couldn't shoot straight, this "Big Deal On Madonna Street" meets "Suspect Zero" launches Irish playwright Martin McDonagh into feature films with flair and literary precision. His finely conceived characters come brilliantly alive through the agency of devilish acting by its three leads, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes.
The latter's presence, Harry (Fiennes), isn't seen in the first half but is most definitely felt. He's the gang boss who has sent his two hitmen, Ken (Gleeson) and the younger, less experienced gun Ray (Farrell), to Bruges (rhymes with rouge and luge), Belgium, for a little calm-down after a hit on a priest. Harry makes the decisions, even from afar. The decision he allows them is whether to use a silencer or not.
Ken and Ray's reactions to the picture-book historic town, a haven for tourists, differ. Ken is instantly charmed and wants nothing more than to take in all the sights like the most wide-eyed traveler. Ray, on the other hand, is too mortified over his failings to be aware of the magnificence of the cathedrals, the bridges, the canals, etc. that surrounds him.
The emotional load Ray is carrying is not about to be lightened or forgotten just because of cobblestones and quaint scenery. That hit on the priest turned into a deep personal tragedy when one of his bullets inadvertently killed a young boy. The effect of this on him is a burden he can't release and, even after meeting the prettiest thing on legs, a blond drug dealer hanging around a movie set named Chloe, (Clemence Poesy) with the sexiest smile on the continent, he contemplates suicide as a means to escape the painful memory.
Even Harry agrees, telling Ken how disappointed he is in Ray. "If I'd have killed a young boy I'd swallow my gun," he says (or words to that effect).
In any event, our two vacationing killers, who operate with a code of strict honesty among themselves, pursue their interests for days while waiting for Harry to give them their next marching orders. Only when he does, it's not as settling as they might have expected and it's enough to bring Harry to Bruges to take matters into his own hands and change the tone of the picture away from the vacation-romance aspect and into something more farcical and broad.
After a creer of serious and historically grand work ("Miami Vice," "Alexander"), Farrell turns in his second comedic role in as many months, though his work here is of a much less exuberent style than that demanded of him in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream." He has had his successes and disasters, but, this dark travelogue clears doubts about his having the capability to match his black-browed handsomeness with a proven taste for satire. He's in the zone in Bruges.
If I ever had any doubts about how much I like Gleeson from prior appearances, that's over. With perhaps the greatest range of emotion to portray, his big, gruff teddy bear of a killer is easily a guy you'd take to dinner. He deliciously exposes the right range of complexity for the style of the part and keeps it sympathetic in every frame.
Fiennes is a study in finesse with the most outlandish of the parts and he carries it off with studious channeling of Ben Kingsley, his predecessor in this kind of role. Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") is something else. With slightly off kilter heart-shaped lips she has a smile that can stop any male on the planet in his tracks. This level of blond-tressed sensuality combined with the acting chops to provide fascinating nuances of sexual chemistry with her costar is likely to turn the French lady into a major draw in American cinema.
I'm aware of a pervading strain of rejection for this movie among critics but I obviously see it a whole other way. I enjoyed what I consider a jolly romp with very astute talents in all departments, including the travel agent.
~~ Jules Brenner