A Fiennes Mess

Running Time 91 minute
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes

You know the movie business is in trouble when producers hire theatrical playwrights who know nothing about movies to write original screenplays and then pay them extra to direct them. Ireland’s bizarre Martin McDonagh, author of a mixed bag of such grim, unsettling, Grand Guignol dramas as The Beauty Queen of Leenane (wonderful) and The Pillowman (dismal), has now been unwisely handed the reins for his first film, a gruesome, confused stumblebum of a movie called In Bruges, which is the most pretentious bucket of swill since I’m Not There. This one might be worse. Instead of Cate Blanchett as a man, it’s got a dwarf hooked on horse tranquilizers.

The movie that opened this year’s Sundance film bash, In Bruges has also got two Irish hit men hiding out in the beautiful medieval ruins of the Flemish fairy tale town called Bruges. Colin Farrell, who needs subtitles, plays a thug named Ray, haunted by the accidental murder of an innocent child while on assignment to murder a priest sitting in his confessional. Brendan Gleeson is Ken, a veteran killer who acts like a father figure to the trigger-happy younger psycho. While they wait for further orders from their boss, a reptilian creature named Harry (Ralph Fiennes with a crew cut and permanent scowl of a man whose breath smells like an open sewer), the sang-froid surfaces. Wandering around the cobblestone streets they run smack into a Dutch film crew shooting a movie that stars a horny, drug-addled midget, who keeps showing up symbolically, like the dead little boy whose blood was splashed all over a Catholic church by Ray. The movie is structured in little pieces, padded with vignettes that never make any sense. Ray falls for a Belgian drug dealer. When her boyfriend shows up to rob him, Ray blows out his eye with a gun that shoots blanks. The dwarf is a racist who shares two prostitutes with Ray. Ray smashes him to hamburger. A pair of Canadian diners seated next to Ray get punched unconscious because they complain about his cigarette smoke. At last, Harry arrives and informs the mortified Ken that the victim of his next hit job is none other than Ray himself! The coke dealer, the one-eyed thief, the dwarf and all three of the hit men all end up in the blood-soaked town square in front of the Gothic cathedral that allegedly houses the blood of Jesus Christ. The dwarf goes first, because he’s dressed like … are you ready? The little boy who lost his head in the church back in London, or was it Dublin? Oh, hell, by this time I didn’t have a clue what I was seeing, thinking, hearing or anything else. The whole miserable mess is like a brain concussion, ending with the voice of Ray’s corpse, waxing poetic: “Maybe that’s what hell is—the rest of fucking eternity spent in fucking Bruges!” No, 91 minutes is hell enough already.

Ham acting and incompetent direction are anesthesized by a lot of Irish Catholic blarney about guilt, sin and redemption, but Mr. McDonagh’s trademark black comedy fails at humor, and although it is sort of creepy, it’s never creepy enough to talk about. Some people think In Bruges is the most nauseating thing since Guy Ritchie met Madonna. Others think it’s hilarious. I think it’s about good actors slumming, in a shameful waste of time and talent that personifies the four most lethal words in cinema today: “Big hit at Sundance!”