Reading the last few days' worth of emails, I saw that this film made Jim Smith outraged and physically ill. I watched it immediately.
I'd expected something in more flamboyantly bad taste. Instead though it's modest, almost plain about its political incorrectness. It's addressing subject matter as inflammatory as a Troma film, yet it's a thoughtful, well-made film that won a Golden Globe Award for Colin Farrell and a Best Original Screenplay BAFTA for Martin McDonagh.
The story involves two hitmen, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, hiding out in Belgium after a job went wrong. That's the story, more or less. Hitman stuff happens later on and Ralph Fiennes also gets in on the act as their foul-mouthed ultra-violent boss, but for the most part it's just our two anti-heroes bouncing off each other in Bruges. Gleeson thinks the city's beautiful, while Farrell thinks it's a shithole. Gleeson enjoys history and culture, while Farrell's idea of an evening out will lead to him chatting up women, insulting strangers and occasionally committing serious criminal acts. Most importantly though, Gleeson's capable of being philosophical and taking a broad view when things go wrong, whereas Farrell's less reflective nature means he can't cope with the idea of having done something unforgivable.
What the film's about, I think, is the nature of what it means to be a bad person. There's obviously a lot of Catholicism in there, partly thanks to all the Irishness (the writer-director and the two lead actors) and partly due to all the ecclesiastical iconography, but I think it's just adding flavour to the theme and I think you could appreciate the film without it.
You see, these are terrible people. They kill people for a living. They'll say and do abominable things, even before you get to the suicide-worthy reason they're in Bruges in the first place, with Farrell in particular abusing and then beating people up on the basis of their nationality. He calls three American tourists "a bunch of fucking elephants" to their faces. He does drugs with a dwarf and some prostitutes. I'm not just talking here about political incorrectness, but instead some things that are genuinely near the knuckle, such as what Fiennes says when he's offered an Uzi. This film contains a rich tapestry of bad or illegal deeds, with even random characters we meet turning out to be drug dealers, thieves or racists.
That's the case for the prosecution. However despite all that, Farrell and Gleeson could both also be called good people. Does that make sense? Is it possible to say that Colin Farrell in this film is a good man? Certainly not if you judge his actions. However he's not a moral vacuum, he has a (hard-working) conscience and I don't think I could call him a bastard. He's not even a dick, really. He's more like a big kid who hasn't learned how to control himself, which is ironic. However with Gleeson I'd go even further and call him a sweet man of culture and sensitivity, capable of self-sacrifice. Compare them with Fiennes's vile thug and it's clear that we are considering a scale on which these could be said to be good people... yet no one in the movie has stronger moral principles than Fiennes, who's positively Old Testament in his adherence to doing the right thing. At the heart of this film is a conflict between the Old and New Testaments, embodied by Fiennes and Gleeson respectively, and one of the things I admire most about the finale is how Fiennes reacts when his own principles are turned upon him.
So if you can manage not to be mortally offended by this movie, there's a lot in here. It's re-examining notions of good, evil and forgiveness. However is it entertaining?
Nudity: none. Violence: a bit of beating and killing, most of which is at the end. Comedy: yes, there are laughs. Does it feel like a quality movie: absolutely. Bruges looks gorgeous, while both Gleeson and Farrell are both good and natural, without being actor-y. Fiennes threw me, though. He's given his psychopath dead eyes, which doesn't seem like an unreasonable choice except that it makes his frequent outbursts of rage seem a bit unconvincing. Sometimes you'd even call his eyes sad.
Not only did this film win a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, but it was Oscar-nominated in the same category. I've no objections to this. It's a good film. Maybe it's a bit slow in the first half, when the hitmen are just following orders and lying low, but the actors carry it and the plot will soon get cooking. That's the moron point of view. The other level involves forgiving the unforgivable, disturbing subtleties of morality and Hieronymous Bosch's The Last Judgement. It's fascinating to see moral scruples in hitmen trying to shoot each other, for instance. Fiennes says that everyone's suicidal and he's right. Well worth a look.
"It's just a shame it's in Belgium."