I finally got around to watching In Bruges last night, so let's discuss that.
Ray (Colin Farrell) has committed some sort of criminal act with a gun he afterwards chucked into the Thames. As a result, his employer, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes), has ordered both Ray and his mentor/handler Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to lay low in Bruges, Belgium for a time, and await further instructions. Harry sent them there because he has some fond memories of the place, so it's really like a gift vacation, which Ken seems appreciative of. He's very eager to see the sights, the art, take a canal ride, visit the church which contains a phial which supposedly has drops of Jesus' blood, the whole nine yards.
Ray is less appreciative. His first line in the film is to describe Bruges as a shithole, and his opinion of it improves not a whit throughout the film, even if he does find some things to interest him, such a Chloe (Clemence Poesy), and Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) the midget, I mean dwarf, who is starring in a film being shot in Bruges.
We eventually learn what the job Ray performed was, what Harry wants done about it, and how Ken feels about the whole thing. We learn what's up with Ray about a half-hour or so in, maybe less, which was nice because I was just started to get irritated with him. Up to that point, he acts very much like a small child that's been dragged along to someplace he doesn't want to be. He fidgets, drags his feet, is snippy with people, and constantly looks to be on the edge of tears. Once you learn what he did, it makes a bit more sense.
The movie shifts between moments of Ray and Ken reflecting upon their lives, what they've done, what they should have done*, to moments of absurdly dark humor. So Ray asking whether Ken believes in the afterlife, leads into Ray discussing the only good man he ever killed (a popsicle man), and Ray dismissing it because the man came at him with a bottle which could be deadly, and how it would be different if he'd used his bare hands. Then Ray points out hands can be deadly weapons, if the man knew karate, at which point Ray becomes incredulous because how the hell would the bleedin' popsicle man know karate? Is he fuckin' Vietnamese**?!
The movie is littered with moments of importance, that suddenly go awry. What makes this work is, I think, that the characters themselves seem angry about it. Whether it's because they were having a serious discussion, and now they're discussing the odds a popsicle man knows karate, which is not the point, or they were focused on something they have to do, and their contact keeps asking if the proper word for what he's describing is "alcoves". In some cases, they're having a pleasant, almost happy time, and suddenly someone's children are insulted, or somebody starts talking about an impending race war, or whatever. At one point, a character proclaims he isn't likely to shoot someone here in front of a thousand Belgians (and the tourists of various nationalities), but said character, maybe ten minutes later, has no problem chasing someone through the city firing at them. It's hard to tell whether he's really determined, or just an idiot.
The movie seems to be partially about when is it too late to change. Is it too late for Ray, or could he be saved? What about Ken, or Harry, or Chloe? They've all done less than noble deeds, but does that mean they're too far gone?
One of the apparent joys of Bruges is that it's apparently a very well-preserved medieval town. While on the canal ride, for example, Ken points to a hospital that was built in the 1100s***. I'm sure that the locations chosen for several of the scenes have significant meaning to the scene itself, but like the title of the post says, they're largely lost on me. There's a bell tower that plays a role in a couple of scenes, but I'm not certain what it's supposed to symbolize.
One thing I did think I noticed, that I'll end on, is Ray and his coat. it's a black coat, and through the early part of the film, he keeps it bundled tightly around him, hands shoved into the pockets, as if he's bitterly cold. As the movie progresses, Ray meets Chloe, makes a decision about what he'll do, then has that decision taken away, and then has to try something else, all before the climax. As these things happen, I think he stops holding the coat closed around him. He may button it closed, but he's no longer jamming his hands in the pockets, and eventually, starts leaving the coat open more and more, exposing a clean white shirt underneath. If I'm remembering that correctly, you can make of it what you will.
I would say if you haven't watched it, and you're presented with the opportunity to do so, you really should.
* Most of this is Ken, who's older, and so a bit more reflective. Ray largely keeps his feelings about his own actions internalized, or at least, doesn't speak of them seriously.
** Ray seems fixated on the Vietnamese, as he keeps bringing them up in various discussions. Them and to a lesser extent, the Pakistani.
*** I'll admit, the idea of hospitals in the Middle Ages in Europe surprised me. For some reason, I've always kind of pictured that if you were sick, people basically threw up their hands and figured you were dead. I ought to know better, but there it is.