#21- In Bruges (2008)

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This post was written by guest writer Bryan Hernandez

Who's List This Was On:
- Bryan Hernandez: #1

Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Written By: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes
Based Upon: The one act play The Dumb Waiter

The Plot
The story is a simple one. Two small time hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), are sent to the Medieval European town of Bruges, Belgium following a hit in London with instructions to wait for a phone call from their crime-boss employer Harry Waters (Fiennes).

Why This Movie Is Great

It is a pretty difficult task to choose the 25 best films of the last 25 years, let alone pick a #1 overall. There have been many standout films that set records, contained dynamite and award winning performances, and have, quite frankly, changed cinema. I chose In Bruges specifically because it is not a film that jumps immediately to mind. Instead, it is a low-budget, low-publicity production that artfully and masterfully balances comedy and drama while being exceptionally self-aware. The film also boasts one of the best, under-the-radar acting performances of the last 25 years... and maybe ever.

The film is incredibly self-aware of its simple plot and that bleeds over into the way its characters are developed. The plot is not complex enough – and the film not long enough - to have overly complicated characters. Rather, each character plays out one specific trait to the extreme. The dichotomy between the pragmatic and patient Ken (Gleeson) and the impatient and impetuous Ray (Farrell) is immediately apparent. Fiennes’ Harry Waters has an unforgiving and insatiable ruthlessness. Each plays upon their respective trait to an apex, until the story reaches a breaking point.

The criminal intrigue and mystique of Fiennes’ crime boss hangs over the entire first half of the film as the two hitmen await his phone call. His lingering presence is quite an achievement considering Fiennes is not shown on screen until near the end of the film, during the buildup to the climax. The audience is keenly aware and apprehensive of Harry Waters, despite only hearing his voice for much of the movie.

The film provides some fantastically funny, albeit superficial, dialogue and situations that entertains the audience. What is truly gripping and emotion provoking, however, is Farrell’s tour de force performance as Ray. It is Ray’s emotional evolution as he attempts to cope and move on with aspects of his life as a hitman that not only revelas his human side – and actually gets viewers to sympathize with a murderer – but also provides the pivot points that change other characters’ perspectives and drive the plot. The challenge presented to an actor by the way the character of Ray is written are daunting. A simple plot only works if the actors are up to the task. Farrell masterfully portrays the simultaneously simple and complex hitman Ray with flying colours. He was slighted not to have been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

At the end of the day, this is an art film. From the dialogue, the situations, the humor, drama, performances, to the beautiful and picturesque setting of Bruges, this film is a piece of art. It might not be the grand Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David that was films like Avatar. It is instead that smaller piece, the one by a lesser known artist that sits in the corner of the museum and sees less visitors than its companions, that you just happen to enjoy a little more.