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Hitman’s Holiday

Badly bruised in Bruges

Feb. 20, 2008
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Ray (Colin Farrell) casts a wary eye on the picture-book surroundings of the Belgian city of Bruges, keeps his head down and scrunches his face behind the upturned collar of his wool overcoat. Along with his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson), Ray is a British hitman who was sent there on holiday in order to make himself scarce for a few weeks.

It’s nearly Christmas and the thin winter light provides pale illumination for the steeply pitched houses, the gargoyles and gothic spires. Ken is keen on climbing the medieval belfries, riding the boat taxis down the reflecting canals, seeing the sights. Ray has no interest in walking his way through the guidebook to the city. He’s impatient to get home, but also pained with guilt.

The last hit went wrong. Accidentally, the bullets fired by Ray claimed a small boy along with their intended victim. His boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), has ordered him to Bruges until the heat cools down. Or so Ray was told. Harry is a vicious murderer, but killing children is a line he will not cross. Although Ray never meant for the boy to die, Harry intends for his longtime associate Ken to execute the errant hitman for his sin. In Bruges is an edgy morality play by director-writer Martin McDonagh, tinted in shades of dark humor. The medieval Flemish surroundings provide a suitably grim setting for a killer to contemplate the meaning of his deeds. The Roman Catholic churches and municipal museum are filled with crucifixions, bloody scenes of martyrdom, skeletons discoursing with the living and Bosch-like scenes of pandemonium.

With his guidebook in hand, Ken becomes the docent in the purgatory of his guilty conscience, perhaps even the tour guide through the outer circles of hell. The crime-genre conventions coupled with jabs of spiky humor keep In Bruges far from Ingmar Bergman. The butt of many jokes are American tourists, whose ignorant arrogance forms a motif of comic relief.

There is the racist American dwarf expounding upon the coming war between black and white, the fat-assed family unconscious of the space they occupy with their broad girth, and the snide jerk who complains about smoke even though he’s seated in the smoking section of the restaurant. “That’s for John Lennon, you Yankee fucking cunt!” Ray says, decking him in the name of the fallen Beatle, but only after mocking him for losing the Vietnam War.

Although it goes a bit bonkers in the home stretch, not unlike many Yankee movies, In Bruges puts forward an interesting set of characters between the morally panged Ray, the philosophical Ken and the psychotic Harry. It also asks whether redemption is possible even in the aftermath of a deed whose consequences can never be undone.

In Bruges opens next week at the Oriental Theatre.


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