I’ve got my eye on Martin McDonagh, the director of In Bruges. He appears to have only two features under his belt and I like them both. Bruges does not stack up well against the Enneagram, and I have a feeling that Seven Psychopaths would fare no better. Yet, they’re quirky, original and fun movies. How important it is that they measure up?
Bruges, the medieval-preserved Belgian city, is established and we meet our two characters, Ray and Ken. The whole first half of the movie has a Waiting for Godot quality. Ken is happy to sightsee but Ray hates Bruges. (“A shithole.”)
Which reminds me: if you’re offended by the f-bomb, don’t watch. It’s every other word. But they’re Irish, so it’s okay.
Ray has somehow bungled a job (they’re hit men) and now the two guys are relegated to Bruges to await further orders.
So far, so good in terms of the requirements of the 1. However, the movie continues. Ray happens on a film shoot and meets a girl; Ken sightsees a tower; the guys are out for the evening and miss the boss’ call; more sightseeing. I clocked this entire sequence at 24 minutes. That’s almost a quarter of the movie spent in the 1. If I don’t like these guys or don’t find anything about their characters compelling I am walking out by now.
But I do like them, so I stick with the rambling.
Ray’s bungle is revealed and it turns out to be a tragedy. I wonder if this moment has greater impact because we’ve waited so long to find out what Ray did.
He shot a boy. In a very strange, Irish moment we see Ray in a confessional. It turns out the the priest hearing his confession is the target of the hit.
Okay. McDonagh definitely has a complex relationship with Catholicism.
As Ray follows the priest out of the booth, shooting, he hits the child. The kneeling child. With his sweet, sorrowful list of sins he is about to confess. This is a horrible moment for Ray, and we feel it just as much as he does.
How interesting that the Two-Trouble, the thing that sets the movie in motion, is a flashback. The 24 minute 1 left us in suspense as to why exactly these men were stuck in Bruges. It turns out it was something that already happened. Since we are just learning about it though, it becomes this movie’s 2. I find that process absolutely fascinating.
And then the 2 rambles on a little further, showing the guys at an art museum looking at a painting of purgatory, heaven and hell, and including further discussions about the tragedy of the boy. Ray, crying, is agonized.
Does this diminish the impact of the 2, this rambling? I would say that it further develops the 2, and that it works.
Ray has dinner out with the girl that he met at the film shoot. At the next table are an unhappy couple who sound American. We will learn at the 6, when we see them again, that they are Canadian. Ray punches them both. It’s pretty funny. You had to be there.
Meanwhile, during the same movie-timeline as the 3, Ken takes the call from their boss. He pretends that Ray is in the next room and Harry the Boss tells Ken to send him away. Because of his lie, Ken has to enact an entire pantomime of Ray leaving. It takes all of three minutes of screen time to go through this.
And our 4 is over. I’m astonished. I’ve never seen such an abbreviated 4 in any other movie.
Harry, on the phone with Ken, reveals why the men are in Bruges. Ken is to kill Ray for his bungled hit. “You can’t just kill a child and get away with it.” (I love this sense of honor among people who kill other humans for a living.) Harry has sent them to Bruges (the “shithole”, remember) because it is such a fairy tale medieval town. With swans! He wants Ray to enjoy his last days.
Ken, obviously distressed, moves forward with plans to kill Ray. He drinks, he joins Ray in a party with a dwarf who is in the film shoot (don’t ask), he picks up a piece from the local weapon’s dealer, Yuri, etc.
When he approaches the back side of Ray at a park, ready to shoot him, he sees that Ray has a gun to his head and is about to commit suicide. So Ken stops him. Instead of killing him he packs him off on a train headed for anywhere. Ray’s remorse, seemingly, convinces Ken that Ray should have a second chance in life. And Ken will have to own all of this to Harry, who’s on his way to Bruges.
On the train with Ray are, coincidentally, the Canadian couple. Still pissed about the wife-punching thing, they have Ray arrested and removed from the train. He’s back in Bruges.
Here the 6, like the 3, decides to expand on its premise.
Harry arrives in Bruges and gets his piece from Yuri the Weapon Dude. He meets with Ken at an outdoor cafe and hears what Ken has done. Ray is bailed out by the film shoot girl, which means he’s loose on the streets. He and the girl go to the cafe to eat.
This is more than expanding; this is writing a whole new number. But it’s Irish, so it’s okay.
When Ken and Harry walk up the tower, which is in the same plaza as the cafe, we get a decision moment.
Well, again we get the explanation of the moment. It already happened. Since Ken is explaining himself at this point, I believe it is still a valid 7.
Ken will not fight Harry, whom he respects, but he will accept the consequences of not killing Ray. Let Harry do as he will.
So Harry shoots him in the leg. Many people get injured in this climax to the movie, so buckle in. This is just the first instance.
Meanwhile, down below the tower in the plaza, the dwarf, dressed in a prep-boy costume, says hello at Ray’s table. A man that Ray had previously blinded in one eye (don’t ask) spots him and runs up the tower to inform Harry.
Harry shoots Ken in the neck and descends the tower’s staircase.
Ken jumps from the tower lookout, to his death, to alert Ray to Harry’s presence.
Ken dies, Ray runs, Harry chases.
Harry shoots Ray on a barge. The score during all this is absolutely wonderful, by the way.
Ray, running on, ends up in the film shoot, where everyone is dressed like a denizen of hell, right out of the painting from the art museum. Harry, catching up, shoots Ray multiple times in the back. Unseen by Harry, though, is the dwarf actor dressed like a boy. The dum-dum bullet Harry’s been using blows the dwarf’s head clean off, leaving only his boy costume identity.
Harry, thinking he’s killed a boy, shoots himself.
In a very quick and hasty segment, Ray is wheeled into the ambulance surrounded by the film’s actors in hell creature costumes. The odds of him surviving are pretty slim. The odds of him going to the darker edge of eternity are pretty good.
So, everybody dies. The End.
Good movie, right? What would have happened if all the 1 stuff had been edited into the 4, where it belonged?
The 3, while quirky-funny, also shows Ray’s sense of right and wrong. Mrs. Canadian lifted a bottle in an aggressive move (after Ray decked her husband) so Ray felt justified in punching her.
I’m going to say that the movie would have been better. Really, what’s interesting here is Ray’s morality. We have to know that he’s a man who shot a child, albeit by accident, in order to appreciate his other choices. (The fact that he’s a man who was willing to shoot a priest in a church could have used a little moral explaining, as well.) If McDonagh had given Ray that tension, I believe a different depth to the writing would have occurred in the 1-that-is-a-4 development.
This is a small movie, beautifully cast. McDonagh has the talent to be widely successful if his scripts can exercise more discipline.
And that’s my armchair two cents.