Sundance Review: In Bruges

In my experience, the Sundance Film Festival has always been about films that are fresh and gritty, as if they are the blue collar workers of the movie cosmos, far more honest than the films that Hollywood parades around with wide releases and huge press junkets. But then again, what do I know — this is only my first year at Sundance.

Experienced, I am not. But I do know this much: the 2008 Sundance Film Festival has been set in motion by such a film, an interesting, engaging and altogether conflicting experience known as In Bruges. It becomes interesting early, as we are introduced to Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), two contract killer who have recently finished off a job and have been sent to the small Belgian town of Bruges to hide out. Delivered in an almost haphazardly fashion by Colin Farrell, the dialogue in the opening moments of the film is as sharp as a razor, leading the audience to laughter and the expectation of a very lighthearted experience.

The film then takes a turn toward conflicted as the score, composed by Carter Burwell (No Country for Old Men), pounds away with swooping dramatic orchestra and a slow, meticulous piano track — it is a far reach from the comedic opening of the film, but it does foreshadow for what is to come.

And what is to come is a twisted story of two killers having to deal with their trade and the guilt of a murder gone wrong. Chief among the stand-outs of the film is Colin Farrell, whose performance is nothing short of phenomenal. Taken in context with much of his other work, In Bruges is something in a category all its own. He seems to be so much more enjoyable in the beginning, when neither he nor his character take themselves too seriously (think Miami Vice if you are looking for the opposite of this). And in the end, he delivers the film’s dramatic punch with a sense ease that is normally reserved for more heralded actors.

In combination with Farrell, great performances from Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Feinnes (who plays the two men’s hot-headed boss) add to the enjoyment of the film. As a threesome, they deliver some funny moments and ultimately deliver some thought provoking moments at the end. It is one of those things that can be credited to both the script and the actors, and all the people who brought them together for that matter.

In the end, the only problem I see with In Bruges is that it will be a tough film to market to a mainstream audience. Personally, I enjoyed the hell out of it and will probably take in another screening. But that doesn’t mean that the genre-bending story and the flip-flopping tones of the film won’t have the average moviegoer scratching their head. For those that wish they could be at Sundance every year, not for the celebrities and the parties, but for the great films that other people just don’t understand, In Bruges is a movie that they should seek out. For others, I say take the risk — what do you really have to lose?

Grade: A-

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet.

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