Sunday, January 4, 2009

In Bruges

Dear Martin McDonagh,

Congratulations, you've just made your first feature length movie! I bet that's pretty exciting. While I've never made a movie myself, the feeling of something you created going out into the world and making an impression must be pretty great. Plus, for your first movie, you had some pretty good talent in your corner. Not everyone gets to work with Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes AND Brendan Gleeson on their first movie. Most people get people like the local animal health officer who has been in a few plays for the dinner theater, or the mayor, because if you cast the mayor he'll give you all the permits you want. So getting real talent in your first go, that's a pretty major acheivement.

I can see why they went for it. You did win an Oscar for a short film, and even if you hadn't, the script for this one is mostly fantastic. You've written a funny script, there's no question of it, and I imagine every great comedic actor would want to deliver some of that dialog. It's quite sweary, but hey, there's nothing wrong with being sweary in this context. It's a movie about gangsters - Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell - hiding out In Bruges, the former loving the scenery and the latter hating it. Of course it's going to be sweary, not to mention a great foundation for a black comedy. And when psychopathic boss Ralph Fiennes shows up, you're not going to want to tone down the language.

But here's the thing, I think the pressure of making your first movie might have gotten to you. Most of us would think "I've made a great, funny script, got some absolutely fantastic actors and a wonderful location. This is all I need." I don't think you thought that though. I get the feeling that you wanted your first feature to mean something. It should have some serious themes going on, some drama, maybe the story should be about regret and the consequences of murder. I mean, that's a pretty good idea, in some cases, but I think by trying to make a movie that means something and a wickedly funny black comedy at the same time backfired in a bad way.

I knew something was wrong when I heard the somber piano score and saw the moody shots of gothic architecture. I had seen the trailers before, and I was expecting something a bit, well, lighthearted. It might have been more appropriate for a serious drama, and while there's nothing wrong with serious dramas, there's a reason they're often shot and edited differently from comedies. Throughout, it seemed like a movie shot like a drama, but it really wasn't one. The extended reaction shots, the moments of quiet, the scenes of people crying and regretting their mistakes. If I didn't know English, I'm not sure what I would have thought the movie was.

So, when the comedy in the script started coming through, it seemed strange and out of place. Eventually, I began to recognize your serious themes and the questions you sought to raise, and I began to wonder if you even knew what movie you wanted to make. Most of the dialog is funny, but the story really isn't, and the entire style of the movie seemed a bit better suited for something a bit more somber.

I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong about mixing comedy and drama, but the end result was a movie that I was never really sure about. I was laughing, and laughing a lot, throughout, but there were several times when I wasn't sure if the scenes were meant to be funny or not. At the very end of the film, I was laughing but feeling bad, since I knew what you were trying to achieve with the scene, and I knew that the movie as a whole was building to a discussion on morality and mortality, but at that moment I just had to laugh at the ridiculous spectacle on stage.

Maybe that was the point. Maybe I was supposed to feel bad about laughing at these people, or feel uncomfortable about finding so much humor in a situation revolving around death, especially the death of innocent people. But I yearned for a movie that was either more comfortable in its comedic strength, or one that was more fully realized as a serious drama. As it was, it was a great comedy with some drama awkwardly shoved in, and that didn't work too well. Still, even so, I did love it, and I'm very interested in seeing what you do next. Your dialog is fantastic, your visual sense is pretty good - making Bruges your location, and almost another character, was a stroke of genius - and I can't wait for your next picture. I just hope you feel more comfortable in your direction, and can make a movie that doesn't feel quite so unsure of what it wants to be.



Screen taken at 12:52

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha that's a great picture to drive the message home, if only one of them were wearing like a funny hat or something.

    It's really strange when comedy gets mixed in with drama, but I think that's because I typically don't "get" drama so I wind up not really taking it seriously anyway. I've been pretty interested in seeing this movie, though, ever since it came out on DVD. My only reluctance was the price (I typically wait 'til movies are like $7 or less if I'm unsure of the quality) and the fact that I couldn't really get a sense of what was going on from the box description. Knowing all this, I may check it out now that it's $10!

    Great writeup, dude!