Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
An endlessly quotable, blisteringly funny pitch-black comedy with some heavy dramatic overtones, Martin McDonough´s In Bruges is one of those rare debut masterpieces that instantly identifies its creator as a major cinematic force. Film is so different in tone and style than what we are used to or might expect that some viewers may feel ostracized; others will be swept away by a genre-defying film that unfolds naturally, not by the pen of a writer, but by the actions of its characters. Only occasionally does a directorial debut come across that has this kind of assured weight and resonance; while watching it I couldn´t help but be reminded of the Coen Brother´s Blood Simple, or Mamet´s House of Games. Director McDonough, an acclaimed playwright (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and Oscar-winner for his 2004 short Six Shooter, has now aligned himself with the greats.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as Irish hitmen Ray and Ken, who are sent to Bruges (it´s in Belgium) after a successful hit on a priest leaves some unfortunate collateral damage. Bruges is a storybook, well-preserved medieval gothic village (a “fuckin´ fairy tale”, in the words of the characters) where Ray agonizes and Ken sightsees while waiting for a phone call from boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with their next instructions. While there, they meet a bevy of colorful supporting characters, most notably including a racist American midget and beautiful local girl Chloë, a potential love interest for Ray. The city of Bruges, as one might expect from the title, is also a major character here; the film not only provides a satirical travelogue of the city, but the landscape and historical landmarks often dictate the course of events.
Cast is wonderful: Farrell has never been better, more at home here (naturally) inhabiting a Dublin gangster than he´s been as Hollywood leads. Gleeson is solid as always; Fiennes is a surprise as the violently enigmatic, malevolent Harry, who couldn´t be more different to the actor´s usual quiet, introspective characters. Original score by Carter Burwell is extraordinary, though it decidedly underlines the drama in the film rather than the comedy. And while I call this a comedy (and indeed, it´s one of the funniest films I´ve seen in years) it´s a dark, dark experience that knows the world of its characters and isn´t afraid to show ultra-violence in every bloody detail. The humor in the film comes from McDonough´s wonderful, rich, irreverent dialogue and the ironic situations that are sometimes derived from it; otherwise, this is heavy stuff that only the more adventurous viewers may appreciate.
A dazzling, breathless, ultimately exhausting experience, the Wachowski Brothers have certainly created something with their vision of Speed Racer; what that something is, however, is rather difficult to define. On one hand, it´s a nostalgia tour of the old Speed Racer cartoons – a predecessor to the worldwide influence of Japanese animation that were quickly and cheaply made, simplistic, and not really all that good, but hold a special place in our hearts anyway. On the other hand, it´s a no-holds-barred kaleidoscope of visual thrills that we can barely keep up with. It´s so familiar for viewers of the cartoon, so lovingly recreated, and yet visually, so wildly different to anything and everything we´ve seen before, that most viewers won´t know what to make of it.
But all our favorites are on hand: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), Mom and Pops (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman), Trixie (Christina Ricci), Sparky (Kick Gurry), Spritle (Paulie Litt) and Chim-Chim (played by a real chimpanzee, thankfully), Racer X (Matthew Fox), and everyone else. The plot involves corruption of power in the futuristic racing world, with evil Royalton (Roger Allam) attempting to draw Speed into his fold, and threatening the Racer family when he cannot; we´re not watching this for the plot, of course, but it´s competently executed, with an uplifting little guy vs. evil corporation theme. There´s ninja fights, hand-drawn animation fantasy sequences, impossible racetracks that look like video game creations and defy logic, and flashbacks-within-flashbacks-within-flashbacks. But to describe the experience is fruitless. And nothing looks real – outside of the actors, almost everything has been created digitally – but that´s not the point; there´s truly an artistic vision here, mad as it may be.
The editing is so hyper, and the film so visually unconventional, trying to dazzle the viewer in each and every frame; my eyes genuinely hurt by the end of the experience. There´s two climatic races by the end, perhaps one more than a film can successfully sustain, and at 130 minutes, the film feels a tad too long (though I was certainly never bored). Yet I would call this ideal family fare (just don´t sit too close to the screen): younger viewers may genuinely be dazzled by the limitless visuals, and parents can bask in the nostalgia, which is so strong, at times, it brought a tear to my eyes (forgive me: it was the “go, speed racer, go!” chords that did it, finally striking up at the end of the big race). Unfortunately, Speed Racer has been horribly marketed, and the mega-budget, based-on-a-lousy-cartoon concept will make it easy prey for most critics. But don´t dismiss it as many will: this is truly something special.
Note: film is playing in a Czech-dubbed version in most Prague cinemas; you can catch it in English (without Czech subtitles) at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům.