In Bruges (***½)

Posted on April 5th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

In BrugesWe live in a small country town (Brenham, TX – population ~13,000), and love it.  One drawback, however, is that there is only a single movie theater here, six-screens showing the absolute worst of Hollywood crap…we call it the Yokelplex.  There has been only one exception, which is when they showed Gone With the Wind on the big screen in partnership with a local community theater that was staging a play about the making of the movie.  But other than that – a constant parade of dreck.  For example, here's the current playlist:

  • 21
  • Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
  • Drillbit Taylor
  • Leatherheads
  • Nim's Island
  • Superhero Movie
  • Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns

Not every movie on that list is execrable, but most are, and none are compelling enough to get my entertainment dollars.  We've been to see maybe 5 or 6 films at the theater, and we've lived here for a year and a half and I *love* going to the movies.

What does this have to do with In Bruges?  Well, nothing directly, except that we had to drag ourselves into downtown Houston (90 minute drive, to the sadly decaying Angelika Theater – more on that at the bottom of this article) in order to find a movie worth seeing.  And, to me, this is indicative of the drought of good films being produced by the mainstream American film community.  Are there occasionally good American films?  Yes.  However, most of the mainstream films are simply horrible.

At one point we were so desperate for movie entertainment that we took a couple of weekends to visit the Yokelplex and see the films that were most highly rated by the combination of RottenTomatoes and IMDB.  One weekend it was The Spiderwick Chronicles, which we knew was primarily a kid's movie, but I've got an open mind and have loved many "kid" pics, such as The Incredibles.  Well, Spiderwick was so bad that we walked out, something we rarely do.  It wasn't really bad, it was just incredibly derivative and boring.  As are most mainstream films that we are able to go see.

However, In Bruges, is a different story altogether.  We had seen some brief trailers for it, and it looked kind of like an action comedy, and it is…sort of.  But it's much more than that.  First of all, it's so well written that it shames virtually every American film we've seen in the last few years, with only a few exceptions like Michael Clayton, Superbad, and Stranger Than Fiction.  Second, it defies expectations at every turn – and not in the in-your-face, clonk-you-over-the-head, artless manner of most mainstream American films – but in subtle, unexpected, and even frightening ways.

I really don't want to talk too much about the film because I don't want to spoil it.  Suffice it to say that Bruges is the name of a city in Belgium, and Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson (who also played the father with the little girl in 28 Days Later) are a team of London underworld types who head to Bruges to escape the heat from a recent job.  I'll say no more about the plot of the film, other than to say that it does contain more violence and intensity than is apparent from the marketing and trailers that I've seen.

Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, and the rest of the cast are superb…SUPERB.  I normally don't care for Colin Farrell – but I have to admit that he does an excellent job here – so good that he deserves an Oscar nom.  So does Brendan Gleeson.  So does the writer/director, Martin McDonagh.  However, I fear that this is the kind of movie that the Academy will overlook.  First, it's not from an American production company.  Second, it's both funny and serious – which tends to confuse Academy voters who seem to like to nominate movies for Best Picture only if they are NOT comedies and only if they are clearly serious films.  And third, well, the taste of the Academy sucks so far this century.  I'll love it if I'm wrong when the nominations come out next year, but I'm not holding my breath.

The bottom line – if you like films that are perfectly cast, tightly scripted, superbly acted, exquisitely directed, action packed, funny, and also serious, go see In Bruges.

A note to local Houstonians – what the hell has happened to the Angelika Theater?  We hadn't been there in nearly a year, and the last time we were there its glory was starting to fade.  Today it was simply a sad, empty shell of its former self.  The staff were surly and uncaring, the refreshments and snacks were unremarkable, the air-conditioning was broken (or set to a hotter setting to save money), and the quality of the picture and sound in the theater was horrendous.  The Angelika used to be an elegant venue in which discerning filmgoers could enjoy a sophisticated night out – and now it feels like a shabby suburban gigaplex.  They still show interesting movies, which is good, but, sadly, the thrill is gone.

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