[Movie Review] In Bruges

In Bruges

Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Martin McDonagh

Genre: Thriller

Cert: 18

Released: 2008


Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are two very different people.  They both kill people for a living – working for Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) – but have little else in common.  Ken is older, has been a killer for a long time but enjoys tranquillity and sight-seeing.  Ray is new to the game, is easily bored and has a habit of getting himself in to surreal scrapes.  

When a hit in a London church goes wrong they flee to Bruges in Belgium for a fortnight and are told to await a call from Harry.  While Ken enjoys the serenity of the city, Ray gets involved in ludicrous disagreements with American tourists and angsty midgets.  Things pick up for him when he meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy) on the set of a Dutch movie shoot.  With both men now happy to stay in Bruges, it seems their two weeks will pass satisfactorily.  But Harry has news for them and soon the peaceful city will become bullet-ridden and blood-stained.  

It takes a little while but when “In Bruges” finds its feet, it’s irrepressible.  The awkward opening – dominated by Farrell’s Irish brogue – soon gives way to some darkly comical scenes as Ray and Ken, along with the viewer, become acquainted with the city.  Much credit goes to writer-director Martin McDonagh who has created a gangster movie in the ilk of “Layer Cake” and “Sexy Beast” but yet one which feels fresh and original – his Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (and similar awards from BAFTA, Phoenix and the British Independent Film Awards) underlining this.

Gleeson and Farrell were both deservedly nominated for Golden Globes (with the latter winning).  Farrell bounces around the screen early on with what seems to be adult ADHD but before long the script allows him to expand his performance, shedding the quirkiness and introducing haunted and emotional sides.  Gleeson is as masterful as ever, one of those actors who always seem effortlessly on the money.  

Ralph Fiennes plays the violent but principled gangster who is not impressed with the behaviour of his hitmen.  I haven’t seen much of Fiennes since his “Schindler’s List”, “Quiz Show” and “Strange Days” run about 15 years ago (less said about “Red Dragon” the better) and he is almost unrecognisable with his thick cockney accent and cropped hairstyle.  His supporting role is played to perfection, balancing his violent ethics alongside some delicious dark humour.  

While you can probably call a few of the major plot turns they don’t by any means damage what is an incredible 100 minutes or so.  “In Bruges” is one of those special movies that doesn’t come along too often and simply can’t be missed.


[Movie Review] Red Dragon

Red DragonStarring: Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel
Director: Brett Ratner
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 2002

I love watching prequels. It’s so much fun watching “Star Wars Episode II” and knowing that Luke’s dad takes a trip to the darkside in future movies. Eh…in “The Amityville Horror Part II”, we see the possession and mass-murder that led to the haunted house portrayed in the first movie. True story, apparently.

“Red Dragon” is such a prequel. Except it’s not. To the uninitiated it is a prequel to the 1991 Oscar winner “Silence of the Lambs”. But for those who trawl through the back catalogue of their local video store, they will probably know that it is a remake of Michael Mann’s 1986 sleeper, “Manhunter”. So to some it will be a brand new experience and to others it’ll be case of ‘been there, rented the video’. Anyway…

FBI agent Will Graham (Norton – “Fight Club”, “Primal Fear”, “American History X”) is on the track of a serial killer with the help of criminal psychologist, Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins – “Bad Company”, “Hannibal”, “Meet Joe Black”, “M:I-2”). But a penny drops and Graham realises that the killer is actually Lecter himself. He captures him but not before the doctor puts a stilletto in his gut. Lecter is jailed and Graham retires.

Roll forward a few years and a new series of grisly murders are stumping the police. FBI Chief Jack Crawford (Keitel – “Mean Streets”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Reservoir Dogs”) pursuades Graham to help them solve the case. Of course Graham can’t do it all by himself and so he must go and see Lecter in order to get some assistance. Needless to say there is a bit of tension between the pair and a cat and mouse game begins between Lecter, Graham and the murderer himself, nicknamed ‘The Tooth Fairy’.

I haven’t seen “Manhunter” so comparisons are out the window. But while I presume the well-received “Manhunter” worked very well, “Red Dragon” simply doesn’t. When “LA Takedown” got ported from TV and became “Heat” in 1995, it was presumed that it would have been overhauled to suit the big budget, the big stars and the big screen. It wasn’t, and it suffered as a result.

“Red Dragon” encounters a similar fate. The script is at times pitiful. The banal dialogue that flows (stutters?) between Graham and Crawford is unconvincing. Crawford comes to see Graham at his retirement home on the beach, and to paraphrase, we endure a scene of: ‘why me?’; ‘because you’re the best’…blah blah blah. Norton, versatile and intriguing as an actor, is left with a cardboard cut out character that he can do very little with. There’s no personality or humour and when he does inject some during a later scene with Emily Watson, it’s a sign of what could have been.

The story is not that bad, but the bad guy is – in more ways than one. It doesn’t take long after the cast list rolls to guess who plays ‘The Tooth Fairy’. A hugely disturbed and troubled character needs a suitable actor. It’s the fulcrum of the whole picture, and it just doesn’t work.

Brett Ratner was a surprise chocie for director. With credits that include the “Rush Hour” movies (with a third one to come) and the 2000 minor hit “The Family Man”. While he doesn’t hang about, getting us into the thick of things within minutes, he must take responsibility for the seeming absurdity of much of the movie. Maybe it takes itself a bit too seriously, maybe it’s just not loose enough. I don’t know. It’s disappointing though.

I’m not going to moan about everything. Emily Watson (“Breaking the Waves”, “Gosford Park”) does a decent job in a limited but demanding role as a blind love-interest for our villain, and Philip Seymour-Hoffman (“The Talented Mr Ripley”, “Almost Famous”, “State and Main”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Magnolia”) is fast becoming one of Hollywoods most entertaining supporting characters.

“Red Dragon” is watchable but I think I’ll check out “Manhunter” and see where they went wrong.