February 10, 2008 [In Bruges]

Pulp Fiction made such a big noise that it still sometimes makes me forget that snappy comebacks in crime films have been around for a long time—and for Tarantino's movie to do that to me is quite a feat—me, the lover of Chandler and the Coen bros.—and maybe most tellingly, that moment when Bogart as Sam Spade notes, "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

So there I am, In Bruges, the hardboiled pump primed, and those two crooks lay it on thick, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson—and lest I forget, their boss Ralph Fiennes—straightfaced and muttering or exclaiming, puzzling over the other, maneuvering their way toward gunplay, betrayal, and retribution—with cockeyed justice skittering 'round the corner like Chaplin escaping a Tommygun.  And it's not just the accent—although our Stateside ears love the sounds of the folk of the British Isles—the actors, to be exact, the way they train them over there, declamatory and offhand at once. No, their dilemma holds me as well, the pain that Farrell's Ray bears, a tough guy who makes one false move in a world where one is all it takes, then out go the lights. And Gleeson's pain, the older man, Ken, in a fockin' bind over Ray's mistake, their Code a front—but unyielding, demanding its due.

And of course there's Bruges, hilariously scorned by Ray—but almost a bully in its assertion of its absolutely marvelous self, the prettiest postcards of all come to life, the imaginary blessed childhood of a hood standing in as one last fling for doomed Ray—and once more, the joke's on him and his boss, he hates it like poison, this, his last happy hour.

In Bruges may owe more to Pulp Fiction—and maybe, by extension, Mickey Spillane—in its ability to show little concern for our loyalties—ready as such things are to kill 'em off at a moment's notice—but it still knows that the swaggering irony of crime comedy is itself a front for the crying shame of hitmen and their victims and all us innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire; and in the end the movie feels bad for just about everybody, a kind of promiscuously forgiving morality that wishes no one had to get it, even when they should.

Comments

  1. You mark all the contours of this film, CV, one I have watched now a few times, its setting in the old city the character of Time itself, swallowing and forgiving all. Nice one, CV.

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    1. The director's latest, Seven Psychopaths, is as much fun, but I don't think it has the same resonance as In Bruges. Thanks for visiting, T(h)om!

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