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In Bruges (4K Ultra HD)
Martin McDonagh's In Bruges is certainly not the typical film about hitmen. This dark comedy/drama features some very hilarious, very un-PC dialogue, but under its rowdy exterior are some affecting, emotional scenes and themes of absolution and atonement. Hired guns Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent by their handler Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to Bruges, Belgium, after a botched job. Although Harry insists it is a "fairytale fucking place," Ray thinks it is a "shit hole" and cannot wait to return home. While awaiting marching orders, Ken attempts to keep Ray out of trouble and appease Harry. Ray takes a liking to a local drug dealer cum movie production assistant, Chloe (Clemence Poesy), and struggles with the guilt of his previous sins. The city is its own character, serving as both a charming background and active participant in the lives of these deeply flawed characters.
As Irish hitmen, both Ray and Ken face some severe Catholic guilt after Ray accidentally kills a kid during a job. There are rules in this game, too, so Harry sends the pair to Bruges while he decides how to sort out the mess. This is really a character piece about hitmen in hiding, and it marked the start of a strong directorial career for McDonagh that also includes Seven Psychopaths and the brilliant Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It would have been easy to make all three leads caricatures, but McDonagh does so much more with the material. While we do not get flashbacks to the men's youth or discover why they chose lives of crime, we learn much about their lives and motivations. Harry is, in the words of the lovely hotel proprietor Marie (Thekla Reuten) "a cock," but he has treated Ken well for many years. Ken is used to his fiery temper and can manage his old friend and handler, while Ray is too wet behind the ears to know when to shut up. Ray immediately ticks off the locals and tourists in Bruges, telling an obese family they shouldn't ascend the Belfry of Bruges and getting into a physical altercation with a couple at a restaurant. When Harry learns that the men are not laying low, he leaves his family and heads to Belgium for a fateful confrontation.
McDonagh's screenplay was rightfully lauded here, as it mixes irreverent humor, introspective ruminations, and character drama with ease. There are some lines in In Bruges that even this seasoned viewer cringes at but McDonagh is purposely pushing boundaries here. The supporting characters are interesting, too, particularly Chloe, Marie, and Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), an actor Ray dubs "a midget" and befriends, along with some local hookers, in a pub. Chloe's pretty exterior hides some dark secrets, and Ray believes she could be a match for him. Marie reminds Ken that she is not the receptionist but the co-owner of the hotel in which they are staying. These are colorful characters across the board, and I enjoy spending 107 minutes with them, even though most are not what you would traditionally deem "likeable."
Where In Bruges affirms its worth is during the surprisingly emotional finale; in which Ray, Ken and Harry all come face to face. The film explores themes of guilt and redemption and poses the question of whether certain acts are truly irredeemable. From Ken's father-figure virtues to Harry's crime-boss iron fist, there are codes to be followed and consequences for deviance. McDonagh gets great performances across the board, but I was particularly impressed with Farrell here. Around the time this came out, the Irish actor was stuck between forgettable blockbusters like S.W.A.T. and Daredevil and underperforming gems like Phone Booth and Miami Vice. Anyone who doubts the actor's range and talent should be assuaged by his performance here, as he steals almost every scene he is in. In Bruges is the kind of film that rarely gets made. It is challenging, off-kilter and rewarding. I hope McDonagh's reunion with Farrell and Gleeson in the upcoming The Banshees of Inisherin is as successful.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
I owned the film on DVD but not Blu-ray, but I expect Kino's newly commissioned 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer from the source elements with HDR and Dolby Vision is a stark improvement on both. Approved by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the transfer looks quite impressive, and offers abundant detail and texture in close-ups. Skin tones and highlights are accurate, and black levels are good. The image captures the beauty of Bruges in its buildings and canals, and outdoor, nighttime scenes are particularly impressive. The film is not immensely colorful, but the HDR grade does give the city lights a pleasing shine. Grain is fine and nicely resolved, and I noticed no issues with source damage or digital tinkering.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is recycled but certainly serviceable. The rapid-fire dialogue is always clear and uncrowded, and ambient effects like crowd noise and weather move through the surrounds. The soundtrack is given some nice weight, and the few action sequences offer lively surround and subwoofer response. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and English SDH subtitles also are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K disc and a Blu-ray. The discs are packed in a black case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The bonus features are also recycled and appear on the Blu-ray disc: When in Bruges (13:49/SD) is a making-of piece; Strange Bruges (7:28/SD) sees the cast discussing the city; Fucking Bruges (1:35/SD) is a reel of the film's profanity; and A Boat Trip Around Bruges (5:54/SD) offers views of and trivia about the city. You also get Deleted/Extended Scenes (18:26/SD); a Gag Reel (5:59/SD); EPK B-Roll (13:01/SD) and Trailers (5:04/HD).
This film - like Martin McDonagh's other projects - may not be for all tastes, but I find In Bruges to be a challenging, hilarious, and rewarding film. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes give standout performances in this unexpectedly emotional character study about hitmen in hiding. Kino gives the movie a welcome upgrade in 4K and the package is Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.