In Walt Disney’s most beautiful movie, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket tries to explain what a conscience is. “That still, small voice,” he describes it, telling his friend that heeding it will someday turn even his little wooden self into a real little boy. This breathtaking new film by Martin McDonagh provides us yet another gorgeous folktale about conscience, albeit from a bit more jaundiced perspective. It’s a lesson about how arbitrary the lines we refuse to cross truly are. But McDonagh isn’t merely pedagogic. He also offers us a real “little boy,” as well as a fake one drawn from Grimm storybooks and the Nicolas Roeg film Don’t Look Now, and sets it all in a startlingly violent, sharp, funny, and strangely familiar city frequently described as “like a fairy tale.”
On another level, though, this is just another (though inspired) hit man flick. Unlike recent ironically funny attempts like Grosse Point or TV’s Dexter, In Bruges wants to set the moral score straight. In it, Colin Farrell plays Ray, a beginner murderer whose first contract is a priest. But Ray manages to botch the job so badly that he begins to consider suicide while stuck in a Belgian tourist town that is considerably not to his liking. What’s nicely ironic about the movie’s morality, though, is that in all the agonizing, we almost forget that Ray had no qualms about knocking off a priest in his confessional. Best of all, the movie never pauses to weigh viewers down; it successfully careens through jokes, horror, and crazy cocaine parties, triumphing with its wealth of hyperbolically colorful characters (Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, in particular), while keeping its eye on both heaven and hell. For entertainment value alone, it’s a slick rush.
An extremely successful playwright, McDonagh (Cripple of Inishmaan, Beauty Queen of Leenane) has long said his heart belonged to the movies, but it always seemed like rock star dreams. If nothing else, this film cancels any doubts. His was a big voice onstage, and it’s clear more fun is probable-with one foot in Tarantino Land and the other firmly rooted in the works of Samuel Beckett, his is surely a voice we’ll be waiting happily to heed.