In Bruges (2008): A Tragic Quest for Redemption

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“In Bruges” was a film that was recommended to me by a friend, and I got to say it didn’t disappoint. I’ll get into what I liked and disliked about in the assessment, but for now this is one of the most beautiful films in regards to cinematography.

“In Bruges” was directed and written by Martin McDonagh and produced by Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin.

The story is that of hitmen. Two hitmen named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges by their boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) after Ray accidentally kills a kid during a hit job. From here the story unfolds as Ray wrestles with his guilt and the world around him unfolds.

Here as my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this is a stunning movie. The use of fog and light are used to capture how grey the characters are morally and emotionally through the film, and even ties to the end with the mystery of what finally happened.

The Music – The music is also reflective it shows us the dilemmas Ray faces as he considers taking his own life, and Ken has when Harry orders the hit. It is a stunning soundtrack and one I plan to use for writing in the future. Carter Burwell’s use of the piano made this soundtrack a masterpiece.

Chloe – Chloe is Ray’s love interest and the one showing him a reason to live as she’s been in deep with gangs and drugs herself and they help give each other direction and higher purpose beyond themselves. As her ex-boyfriend is a thief. She’s a very beautiful, kind and complex character. Poesy is fantastic in the role.

Jimmy – Is a drug addict Dwarf from the United States, who is in Bruges as part of a film. He has racist tendencies and thinks there will be a race war between whites and everyone else. When he is called on it by Ken who had a black wife who was murdered by a white man he changes his tune. He blames his racism later on the cocaine, but he seems to have learned from Ken. Ken really is the moral center of the film. Jordan Prentice is a great actor and I want to see him in more films.

Ken – Ken is the moral core of the film. While Ray reacts and tries to escape from his actions, Ken is always facing them. We see this in his love of history as he is the one taking in the sights and history of Bruges and really appreciating the place. He owes a lot to Harry the mob boss as Harry avenged his wife (in a deleted Harry played by Matt Smith does it) so you get the life debt he owes and why he doesn’t hold Harry killing him against him and uses the last of his will to give Ray a gun and warn him that Harry is in town. At one point he is about to kill Ray when Ray is about to kill himself so he changes his mind, saves Ray and gets him out of town. It is here that he chooses to make the right choice rather than stay a killer, which leads to why Harry tries to kill him later. Brendon Gleeson is wonderful in this role.

Harry Waters – This guy is the clear set moral mob boss. “You don’t kill kids.” Is his philosophy in regards to when he does hits, it doesn’t matter if it’s accidental or not, the person who does it will pay, even if it is him. We see the reasons why since he has a family and children of his own and this sets the stage of him killing himself after he accidentally kills a kid into perspective. He’s a character true to his word. Ralph Feinnes shows is acting depth and range again with this character.

Ray – Colin Farrell shows why he won an award for this film…from his hate of Bruges, love of Chloe, nihilistic escapism and confronting his guilt when he almost takes his life in the park while watching kids play. We never know if he dies at the end, we just know he doesn’t want to die in Bruges. He fucking hates Bruges and describes it as being in Hell for an eternity if he dies here. We’re left wondering if he’ll ever find redemption as so far he’s either been running or lost in guilt. This theme pervades the film. 

Cons: The First Third – The first third of the movie is really slow, it’s before we meet Jimmy and Chloe and the backstories of our characters haven’t been fully revealed yet. It goes on way too long and could have been cut since when it picks up it keeps going. This is the only thing keeping it from being a perfect film. Action should have been faster initially, or at least more drama in the first third of reflection.

I loved this film, the cast, music and cinematography are spectacular and it gives us very human characters facing their choices. All the choices have consequences too and there are no easy outs and asks the question of redemption being even possible. For these reasons I would recommend this film, just know the first third is a bit long before the action really picks up.

My final score for this film is 9.4 / 10.

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Fist of the North Star (1986): Heads will Explode and a Hero’s Journey

Fist of the North Star (1986)

“Fist of the North Star,” is a film based off the manga series by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. It was made into two anime series (from 1984-1988) in the middle of which this movie came out in 1986. There is also an American live action film of the same title too. This film was directed by Toyoo Ashida.

The story takes place on Apocalyptic Earth after nuclear weapons have destroyed everything and only the strongest survive. The main drama revolves around Ken known as the Fist of the North Star. The action takes off after the introduction of the world when his fiancee Yuria is taken by his former friend Shin. Ken is left for dead and cast off a mountain by his brother Raoh who wished to take his place in being the Fist of the North Star. From here the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – Post apocalyptic or apocalyptic worlds have given rise to some of the greatest stories, especially in animation…from “Evangelion,” to “Akira,” and to many others I have yet to see. This is a world of mutants and magic fist attacks with some characters larger than life. It is an excellent idea that we are given to kick things off.

The Animation – The animation is fantastic! The characters are drawn with elongated style making their bodies and faces able to express a lot. Most have large muscles too, which fits the desert landscape of where it all takes place.

The Action – The movie is amazing with it’s action. It uses animation to push the boundaries as Ken’s attacks cause people’s heads to literally explode and body parts and blood are flying in most scenes…not to mention it kicks off a person melting in an atomic blast. It keeps that level of action through the movie.

Rei – Rei is a more feminine looking Hero and one of the more interesting characters in the movie. He teams up with Ken after Ken had saved some children and a village before as he was searching for the him…it turns out the man who had kidnapped his sister was Jagi who had taken Ken’s identity. His attack is cool is he creates chi energy that allows him to cut through limbs. He takes care of the kids that Ken saves. He also stands up to Raoh to save Yuria. He sees the big picture too and begs Ken not to fight Raoh so that the children and Julia can live.

Ragi – He’s insane and you can see that Ken letting him live in the past made him worse. His head is boiling and he breathes like Darth Vader. He fights to the end against Ken which is more than be said for Shin.

Raoh – Raoh the Conqueror is great, he shows that Shin is a nobody and manages to best Rei. His goal is stability through fear and his capture of Yuria is only to bring about Ken to defeat him. He is the brother with ambition and I wish the movie had given us more time with him and his conquest. We see him take out a nameless clan easily, but he is largely out of the picture until the last 30 minutes. He also killed his, Ragi’s and Ken’s father.

The Ending – It turns out that the children, specifically Lin becomes the hope for the future. Raoh ends the fight in order for her to be protected by Ken resolving the struggle between the brothers.  I liked that Raoh realized his pride and arrogance were destroying any chance of a future. It ends with the seeds growing and life returning to the dead world. Ken also find an Oasis where he finally can be with Yuria.

Okay: Ken – He is generic hero out to save his fiance. Nothing unique here…at least his design is a little interesting. He looks like Bruce Lee and he screams when he does his super fast multi-punch. Rei is much more interesting than him though, even though he doesn’t have the personal connection to the antagonists.

Shin – He has more depth than Ken in that he tries to win Yuria’s heart after he takes her from Ken, but he doesn’t do anything. He is there purely as a personal connection and motivation for the hero. Jagi was more interesting.

The Kids – Lin and Bat are pretty one dimensional. They play their role as the soul of humanity and human ingenuity though as Bat’s car saves Rei and Ken on a few occasions and Lin is the one who stops Raoh.

Cons: The Presentation of Women – There are a few good examples of them being given agency (the little girl Lin fighting back and helping Rei’s sister Airi find a reason to live) but more often than not they are victims or damsels. Isn’t the world ending supposed to give everyone a reason to fight? This was the most annoying thing about the film.

The Intro. Music – Is way too happy and idyllic given the world that this takes place and the actions that unfold…I don’t think it was meant ironically since this film doesn’t do irony.

The Final Fight – Raoh vs. Ken went on way too long. They destroy the city in the process and just doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

This was a pretty good anime film. I wouldn’t call it great because the protagonist just isn’t that interesting and it doesn’t do anything new with the tropes it uses. Also the overuse of damsels in distress doesn’t help…though Lin stopping Raoh is perfect to at least partially counter this. If you like classic anime or Kung Fu type films you will enjoy this. It has a pretty solid Heroes Journey and some great antagonists.

My final score for this film is 8.4 / 10. Pretty good, but not great.