Thursday, January 31, 2008

When in Bruges

Caught a preview of the enjoyable new black comedy In Bruges, which had opened the Sundance Film Festival a few days earlier. In fact, the print came directly from Park City, Utah.

It stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as two hit men hiding out in the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium after a botched hit in London. While waiting for further instructions from their boss (Ralph Fiennes), they try to blend in with the tourists. Wackiness ensues, but eventually they must confront the consequences of their grim past.

Adding that extra something was a post-screening interview and audience Q&A with writer-director Martin McDonagh, in town doing press for the movie. Introduced as the first playwright since William Shakespeare to have four plays running simultaneously on the London stage, McDonagh deadpanned, "And mine were better."

McDonagh said he'd always wanted to make movies, but figured he'd have to establish himself as a playwright first. And did he ever, with a lengthy string of critically praised shows on either side of the Atlantic.

A few years ago my buddy Jeff Marx and I saw his play The Pillowman on Broadway. Jeff loved it, I didn't, but we both enjoyed the sardonic Jeff Goldblum and scenery-chewing Billy Crudup. As for McDonagh's writing, I preferred The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which I caught off-off-Broadway (read: Skokie). He also wrote The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lonesome West.

As McDonagh told the audience, "It took me ten years to have enough power not to have to listen to anyone." Eventually, though, he had the clout to make films his way. He cut his cinematic teeth a few years ago with Six Shooter, a short film that he modestly said "went pretty well" (it won an Oscar for best live action short), and now makes his feature debut with In Bruges.

McDonagh was funny, charming and charismatic; you couldn't help but like the guy. Happily, his movie delivers the goods, so I have no reservations in giving it the Ben Bass and Beyond stamp of approval. Two thumbs up (both mine). It hits theaters next week. Check it out.

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