Saturday, July 12, 2008

In Bruges - black comedy with Irish wit

I walked in the Civic theatre on Queen Street last night wondering if I’d be out of place in hoody and trainers, which have seen better days, I might add. The independent travellers’ wardrobe doesn’t quite extend anything I’d normally associate with a trip to the theatre, however I felt quite at home amongst the varied crowd. Glancing around the theatre bar before the screening there were as many bottles of Monteiths lager being downed as champagne and cocktails – I settled somewhere in the middle for a glass of average (tasting not price) Cabernet Sauvignon from Nelson.

In Bruges is Martin McDougall’s directorial debut – from the synopsis I’d expected black humour and that’s exactly what we got. At first I was uncomfortable with Colin Farrell’s simple but charming Irish scallywag – in the same way I was with George Clooney in ‘O Brother where art thou’ - I’m not sure the film needed a big name like Farrell – who comes with so many preconceptions lingering from past characters.

Farrell’s scallywag Ray and his partner/ mentor Ken (Brendon Gleeson) are sent to Bruges to hide out after Ray performs a hit in London. The younger Ray is bored and unappreciative of the cultural delights Bruges has to offer two crooks trying to lie low – whilst Ken is happy taking in cathedrals, going on canal boat cruises and visiting museums.

Farrell (and the storyline) soon perks up when he meets the love interest, Natalie (Elizabeth Berrington). WARNING SPOILER FOLLOWS. The plot really gets going when Ken (Brendon Gleeson) is asked to take out his protege by the humorously psychotic Harry, played by Ralf Fiennes (think Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast). The humour is light and fluffy and the dark moments either shocking or poignant. The early comic moments felt whimsical but once we see the darker side to the characters and events, it seems to balance out to produce a bittersweet ride.

Bruges (the city) was beautiful and the directing elevated this magnificently – plenty of canals and cobbled streets. I was organising a stag weekend in Bruges earlier this year but opted for Glasgow instead after declaring Bruges too dull. This was a common theme in the film - played out by Farrell’s character as the bored schoolboy being dragged around the cultural sights. Both the city, and Belgium, come in for a bit of light-hearted ribbing – ‘Bruge is such a nice place it’s a shame it isn’t somewhere nicer, but then if it was somewhere nice and not in Belgium everyone would go there and it wouldn’t be so nice’ (Harry, quoted from memory so apologies if slightly inaccurate).

The story comes full circle and as you feel it coming together you urge it on as it completes with perfect beauty. I walked out of the theatre feeling tall and mean. Why do gangster flicks always make me feel like this? My English Home Counties accent moves 50 miles east towards London’s East-end and my gait entertains a swagger.

Fans of Sexy Beast, The Business, The Departed, Layer Cake, Lock, Stock etc will like this film. My favourite line? ‘I’m not staying here with two scabby whores and a racist dwarf’ – you’ll see what I mean.

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