Before the Tarantino wannabes came along, movies about hit men were a reputable genre (or is it a sub-genre? Discuss). There's a long standing history of really good hetman movies, like THE KILLERS, LE SAMURAI, Woo's THE KILLER, and GET CARTER that helped make this very cinematic profession very cool. Even PULP FICTION, which added the great banter that humanized these types of characters, yet still kept them cool, was a worthy edition, but once the PULP knock-offs started coming, it was over for hit men in the movies. Suddenly it became a cliché and a really bad one, too, as hit men all became foul-mouthed, pop culture taking bores. The genre (sub-genre?!?) has seen some resurrection as of late, and thanks mainly to Johnnie To's THE MISSION and EXILED some of the cool has returned, too, but the duds can still do their damage to the genre and make one dread seeing a picture like Martin McDonough's IN BRUGES, which shouldn't be the case because it's quite good; smart, funny, even a little heartfelt, it's in no way to be confused with the likes of HITMAN or SHOOT 'EM UP, though I doubt any semi-intelligent filmgoer would. I'm just sayin'.
But is IN BRUGES a hetman movie or a movie that just happens to feature hit men? You know, that's not actually all that important - it works either way - but it restores some luster to the hetman genre, no doubt about that. The best thing, though, is that the film is a solid effort all around; excellent acting, lots of smart, funny dialog and wicked black humor, and it's a movie that lives by its own principles, in more ways than one. Despite the stage pedigree of writer/director Martin McDonough, IN BRUGES is not an all that heavy message movie or character study, it's simply a good time, a movie equivalent of a couple beers downed with pals in your favorite watering hole. It's has a pleasant beer buzz to it, but just in the manner that it rolls along and makes you smile and forget your troubles, which was appreciated on my end. The humor is incredibly black and the film has a wicked wit about it that helps it stand out from most of the other movies out there (it's also insanely violent - in a good way) that I couldn't help but be won over. Adding to the pleasure factor are the three leads, all terrific; this is Farrell's best work in a while and he looks like he's having a lot of fun working in his natural voice and working alongside a pro like Gleeson, who I keep admiring more and more with each new film and is really wonderful here (as an aside, I heard that Boorman's THE TIGER'S TAIL finally got picked up for an April U.S. release, though I don't know who has it). Finnes doesn't show up until the final third but he owns every moment he's in; this is a role that lets him cut loose in a big way and he's really a lot of fun to watch. And I can't help but mention Jordan Prentice as Jimmy, the racist dwarf. Almost steals the show.
Know what I also liked about IN BRUGES? Not that the filmmakers could have known, but this is a perfect February release. I wrote a thing last year about February movies and how they had a special feel to them and IN BRUGES has that, too. It's not Oscar bait, it's not a summer blockbuster, it's the kind of movie that opens in February when only die hard moviegoers keep going to the movies and they want to see something good. Hey, it's cold out, it gets dark early, it's not like there's a heck of a lot of fun stuff to do out there, so a good movie like IN BRUGES fits the bill just fine. Quality little flick, one that's not too hyped so it gives you a sense of discovery, that's what you want to see right now and that's what this is. Most of you will probably be discovering this film long after this month is history, but here, in February 2008, IN BRUGES is exactly the kind of flick that's needed. Doesn't make it perfect, doesn't even make it great, but it's appreciated and a movie that's appreciated is still a film worth seeing no matter what.