In Bruges


Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell enjoy the magic that is Bruges.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell enjoy the magic that is Bruges.

(2008) Crime Comedy (Focus) Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clamence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Jeremie Renier, Elizabeth Berrington, Zeljko Ivanek, Mark Donovan, Anna Madeley, Jean-Marc Favorin, Rudy Blomme, Thekla Reuten, Inez Stinton, Ciaran Hinds, Theo Stevenson, Sachi Kimura, Eric Gordon, Stephanie Carey. Directed by Martin McDonagh

My wife is fond of saying that your sins will find you out. She used to say that to our son when she knew he was hiding something from us. With a mom’s unerring nose for a kid’s transgressions, she’d sniff out whatever it was that he was keeping from her. Sometimes, it’s a pity that our mums can’t be with us even as we get older to steer us right.

Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) have been ordered to Bruges to cool their heels after botching a job. Of course their chosen profession is contract killing, so who would think of looking for them in a sleepy little tourist town like Bruges, the best-preserved medieval town in Belgium?

The skittish Ray could care less; he’s bored out of his skull and haunted by the results of his sanctioned but unintended mayhem. Ken on the other hand is a little more worldly; he is quite content to sit back, do some sightseeing and enjoy the magic that is Bruges. He knows that in time, his employer will call with instructions and the best thing to do is lay low and make as few waves as possible.

Ray, being Ray, is more interested in hanging out in the pub, finding himself a girl and getting his bones generally jumped. After getting more than a little tipsy one night, Ray and Ken run into a location set for a Dutch movie being filmed in Bruges, with a dream sequence starring Jimmy (Prentice), who prefers the term “dwarf” to “midget.” Ray also meets a beautiful local named Chloe (Poesy) whom he flirts with. She finally agrees to go out to dinner with him.

Meanwhile, their employer Harry (Fiennes) is getting more and more frustrated that he can’t contact his men since they are always out when he calls. He leaves a profanity-laced message with Marie (Berrington), the very pregnant receptionist who happens to be the co-owner of the boutique hotel the men are staying at. When Harry finally gets in contact with Ken, he gives the man instructions that the worldly killer may not want to follow, but at this point, Ken may not have a choice.

The top three leads – Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes – are three tremendous talents who by themselves individually would entice me into the theater. All three together, well now you’re talking. Gleeson in particular has developed into a marvelous actor who gives a memorable performance nearly every time out. His trademark “gruff with a heart of gold” rough about the edges sorts translates well for Ken.

Farrell has that innate Irish charm that has served him well in both major high-profile projects and smaller independent-minded ones like this one. While Farrell has been somewhat less active in the cinema recently, this one shows him at the apex of his game. His Ray is young and less experienced, virtually jumping out of his skin and bored to tears, failing to see what’s right in front of him. Yet Ray is truly a tortured soul and his sins are just about to catch up with him, but the question becomes is it too late for redemption. Farrell’s soul-searching is particularly poignant and you virtually watch him crumble before your very eyes in one unforgettable scene.

Finally, Fiennes who has Schindler’s List and The Constant Gardener on his resume of award-winning performances doesn’t have a whole lot to do here but makes every scene he is in memorable. He’s one of those actors who makes every line count and uses every nuance in his arsenal to make his character remarkable.

Eigil Bryld’s cinematography is understated, effectively so. Bruges is already fairytale-like in appearance; he uses the town’s charm to his advantage. Carter Burwell’s score is, as always, well-suited to the atmosphere. Although early in his career he tended to be a bit too jazzy for my taste, he has become in my opinion one of the more reliable film composers working today.

Bruges itself is a character in the movie, and its charm is the movie’s charm. I wasn’t that familiar with the town before seeing this movie; now it’s a place I’d like to visit someday. I suppose that would characterize me as more of a Ken sort than a Ray, but history and architecture are two passions of mine. Movies like this one can make a particular place come alive and excite your imagination. Who knew that Bruges would end up on my bucket list?

The movie was sold as a black comedy and it really isn’t when it comes right down to it. This is more of a crime drama with a bit of farce but the tone is black nonetheless. In point of fact, I’m not sure if the writers and director were quite sure what this movie was intended to be, so it turns out to be neither one thing nor the other. My expectations going in from what I’d heard about it weren’t met so I came out disappointed when I saw it initially, but the truly odd thing is when I revisited it recently (I first saw it in theaters back in ’08) is that my opinion of it revised upwards to a near-mediocre score to the much more enthusiastic score you see below.

There is a great deal of charm in the movie and some wonderful performances in it. I think if you go in without the very high expectations I went in with you might wind up enjoying it more than I did. It is definitely worth seeing regardless, if not for Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes but for the irresistible appeal of Bruges itself.

WHY RENT THIS: Tremendous, compelling performances from Farrell, Fiennes and Gleeson. Bruges might just enchant you. Dreamlike surreal quality in some scenes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wobbles between crime caper and black comedy.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is some explicit violence, a surfeit of profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Both Gleeson and Farrell were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances here; Farrell eventually won the award.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a gag reel, a montage of all the copious cursing done in the film called F***ing Bruges, and a five minute-plus boat trip through the canals of Bruges, further cementing the magic of the place.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.4M on a $15M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seven Psychopaths
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Art of Getting By

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The Guard


In Ireland, fighting crime starts when they're young.

In Ireland, fighting crime starts when they’re young.

(2011) Comedy (Sony Classics) Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, Fionnula Flanagan, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Pat Shortt, Katarina Cas, Declan Mannlen, Dominique McElligott, Owen Sharpe, David Pearce, Wale Ojo, Sarah Greene, Darren Healey, Michael Og Lane, Laurence Kinlan, Gary Lydon, Laura Hitchings. Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Offshoring

In a cop buddy film, it always helps if you get complete opposites as partners – check. There needs to be terrific chemistry between the two partners – check. They need to have some pretty nasty baddies to go up against – check. Fun to watch? Read on…

Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is a member of the Garda (the Irish State police) in the tiny village of Connemara in County Galway. He is liable to drink on the job, spends time with hookers (Greene, McElligott) and his mom (Flanagan), dying in a senior home, in about equal quantities. He spouts off vaguely racist epithets when boozing in the pubs – which is often.

When a body is discovered (with pages of the Bible stuffed in his mouth and a message written in blood on the wall), Gerry doesn’t think too much of it. He honestly doesn’t believe he’ll ever get the resources to solve the crime – on that count he’s wrong, however.

A stick-up-his-ass FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Cheadle) is assigned to the case as it is believed that it is the work of a major drug operation working in the area. Boyle, as one of the senior Garda officers in the region, is assigned to Agent Everett because of his knowledge of the locality. Gerry reacts to this with the same enthusiasm as he might drinking a Slovakian whiskey. It might be good, but it’s not Irish.

The two bicker like an old married couple with Gerry constantly testing Agent Everett’s laid-back demeanor with outrageous statements or questions. Apparently he thinks, or at least to Agent Everett’s perspective, that because Agent Everett is an African-American that he’s an expert on all things ghetto as seen on the American television shows that have made their way to the Emerald Isle.

Still, the triad of drug runners – O’Leary (Wilmot), Sheehy-Skeffington (Cunningham) and their leader Cornell (Strong) are especially vicious and not opposed to burying an FBI agent or a Garda in a shallow unmarked grave if need be. Both men will have to learn to trust and depend on one another if they are not only to survive but to in fact solve the case.

There’s a lot to like about a film like this. McDonagh gives the movie an easygoing Irish charm. There is a lot of sniping back and forth in a way that feels familiar and comfortable, much the way barflies do “take the piss” out of each other. To that end he has done a great job in casting, starting with Gleeson, a gruff and tumble character actor who has that Irish charm that can’t be taught. Making matters even better is the addition of Cheadle, one of the more capable actors working today, who can do drama and comedy with equal precision. The two pros work exceedingly well together and create a partnership that is believable and fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is just as strong, much of it Irish and local to County Galway. There isn’t a performance wasted here and everyone not only knows what’s expected of them but delivers. This is as fluid an ensemble as you’re likely to get, with everyone working well together, even the extras.

Granted, if you’re looking for innovation in cop buddy movies, you won’t find it here. The plot is pretty standard and predictable and despite the lovely Irish edge that the production has, it doesn’t cover up that this is a pretty unremarkable story that most cop film lovers will see what’s coming in throughout. There are also a few slow spots in which not a lot happens, which could easily have been edited out.

That notwithstanding, this is still a pretty damn good film which slipped under a lot of radars here in the States, undeservedly so. If you like cop buddy films and haven’t seen this, by all means do. In fact if you haven’t seen this film, by all means do. The movie is more than entertaining enough for any audiences, but if you’re sensitive to certain words (the one that the Irish pronounce that rhymes with “kook”) be warned that the F bomb is dropped repeatedly to the point that fifteen minutes into the film you become numbed to it as it is used like Americans use “umm” or “err.” Otherwise this is one of those overlooked gems you’ll thank me for hooking you up with.

WHY RENT THIS: Excellent chemistry between Gleeson and Cheadle, and also Gleeson and Flanagan. A laconic Irish charm.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Nothing really daring or innovative plot-wise. Drags in a couple of places.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language (nobody curses like the Irish), a little bit of violence, some drug use and a wee bit of sexuality here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a few outtakes and the short The Second Death by McDonagh which includes several cast members from The Guard and introduces an early version of Gerry Boyle. There’s also a festival Q&A with Gleeson, Cheadle and McDonagh.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19.6M on a $6M production budget; this constitutes a minor hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Fuzz

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Offshoring, Day 4

Ondine


Ondine

Not only must Colin Farrell carry the film, he also has to carry Alison Barry without any help from Alicja Bachelda.

 

(2009) Romantic Fantasy (Magnolia) Colin Farrell, Stephen Rea, Alicja Bachelda, Tony Curran, Dervla Kirwan, Tom Archdeacon, Emil Hostina, Norma Sheahan, Alison Barry, Conor Power, Olwyn Hanley, Peter Gowen, Don Wycherley, Gertrude Montgomery, Reese O’Shea. Directed by Neil Jordan

 

The sea gives up its secrets begrudgingly, although off the Emerald coasts of Ireland there is a certain magic in those secrets. Where despair and disappointment may reign over the waves, hope can carry the day.

Syracuse (Farrell) – known as Circus to one and all in the village in which he lives – is a decidedly unsuccessful fisherman trying to eke out a living from the sea, all the while dealing with his daughter Annie’s (Barry) debilitating and serious kidney ailment (which confines her to a wheelchair), his wife Maura (Kirwan) who has taken up with another man, and his own alcoholism which he has been trying desperately to beat.

Out for another disappointing day of failure, Syracuse brings up in his nets a woman, who calls herself Ondine (Bachelda). What she was doing in the middle of the ocean she can’t or won’t say, and she begs Syracuse not to let any other souls in the village see her save himself. He is mystified but puts her up in his late mother’s cottage.

Annie, being a smart and inquisitive little girl, discovers Ondine’s existence and decides that she’s a selkie, a creature of Irish myth that is half woman, half seal. Ondine appears to have some magical properties going on – when she sings, fish almost leap into Syracuse’s net. At last he is beginning to make more than a living, helping pay for his daughter’s dialysis and treatment.

But there is a mysterious man (Hostina) searching for Ondine and when tragedy strikes, everything Syracuse knows or thinks he knows may well be put to the test.

Jordan is an Irish director with an impressive resume, including The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins and The Brave One entered on it. He has a penchant for the fantastic and exercises it here. He also has a good eye for the Irish countryside and utilizing frequent Wong Kar Wei cinematographer Christopher Doyle, he extracts all the misty magic of a small Irish fishing village.

Farrell tends to be at his best when he’s playing ordinary Joes who are flawed. Syracuse isn’t a heroic sort; he’s just trying to do right by his daughter and often doesn’t even manage that. He’s nowhere near as smart as his daughter and often defers to her judgment which is the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head against the nearest brick wall.

Barry may well be a terrific juvenile actress but she’s handed a part here that lands her on my list of pet peeves – the overly precocious child who is smarter and more capable than the adults around her. This serves to make Annie annoying to the point that I’d have preferred long acrylic fingernails screeching over a chalkboard than listening to her talk. That’s not the fault of the actress but of the writer. A more realistic child would have improved the movie 1000 times.

The center of the film is the romance between Syracuse and Ondine. Bachelda, a Polish actress (by way of Mexico where she grew up) is certainly beautiful and has wonderful legs which she displays regularly. She also has, more crucially, actual chemistry with Farrell so their budding romance becomes believable and even encouraged by the viewer who wants to see the together – the watermark of any romantic film.

Some may compare this conceptually to Splash and there are certainly similarities, but whereas Madison in that film was always known to be a mermaid, Ondine remains an is-she-or-isn’t-she until the very final reel which is smart filmmaking. However, the plot takes an unnecessary left turn from gentle romantic fantasy into action thriller for the last twenty minutes or so before returning for the last couple of scenes to the romantic fantasy again. Quite frankly the romantic fantasy works better.

I liked the laidback, dreamy vibe of the movie and Farrell’s IFTA-winning performance (the Irish Film and Television Awards are kind of a cross between the Oscars and Emmy’s in Ireland), as well as Bachelda’s legs and chemistry with Farrell. Kirwan also won an IFTA for her role as Farrell’s estranged wife, battling alcohol issues of her own.

This flew under the radar during an American theatrical release in art houses in the spring of 2010 but is out there on the Showtime/The Movie Channel if you want to catch it on cable, or available for streaming generally everywhere. It makes for a nice romantic evening’s viewing, especially for those who carry an affection for Ireland and all things Irish.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous cinematography and a nice melding of Irish folklore and modern rural Ireland. Fine performances from Farrell, Bachelda, Kirwan and Barry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is a bit disappointing. Annie is part of a long line of precocious and annoying movie kids.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some words you might not want your kids to hear, as well as a bit of sensuality and a scene or two of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farrell and Bachelda

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.6M on a $12M production budget; it failed to recoup its production costs during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Arthur (2011)