In Bruges, the opening night film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, comes at you sideways; the opening moments and slick snap of the dialogue lull you into believing that you're in for yet another standard-issue post-Tarantino film. Hit man protagonists; punchy, poppy, profane digressions about everything but the matter at hand that lead to punchy, poppy, profane digressions about the matter at hand; characters whose capacity with vocabulary is matched by their capacity for violence. But then, Martin McDonagh's script moves in unexpected directions - and, more importantly, in unexpected directions which are the kind of unexpected that you do not actually expect. In Bruges, with two killers exiled to Belgium after a badly botched London hit until the heat comes off, turns into something different from the standard-issue post-Tarantino film; it becomes the post-post Tarantino film, one where the talk talk bang bang is actually, just as it was in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, about something.
In Bruges, in fact, reminded me of nothing less than an earlier excellent example of the post-post-Tarantino film, Christopher McQuarrie's excellent, underrated and under-seen The Way of the Gun. Both are about a group of tough guys who, through extraordinary variations on their normally extraordinary lives, find out precisely how tough they really are, the hard way. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are in Bruges, and all of their quibbling about Bruges's scenic destinations and charm is a way for them to talk constantly without actually talking about what they need to talk about -- which is how off-the-charts wrong one of their jobs has gone. They're not on their familiar London turf; they're in, as Ken relates from the guidebook, "The most well-preserved medieval city in Belgium, apparently." Ken is enjoying the trip; Ray is not. "I hated history, didn't you?" Ray asks. "It's all just a load of stuff that's already happened." As McDonagh's script carefully, firmly lays out why Ken and Ray are in exile amid the cobblestone streets and Gothic cathedrals, Ray's desire to avoid thinking about what's already happened becomes completely understandable.