Sunday, November 25, 2007


"An Irishman I am, begorrah! With a heart and a spirit on me not crushed be a hundred years of oppression. I'll be getting me shillelagh out next, wait'll you see." - Martin McDonagh, "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

"In Bruges" should come out in the UK next year. Its pitched as a dark comedy-drama, following two hit men (played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who have to lay low in the titular Belgian City after a bungled job. Out of their element and faced with a film shoot in the City, the two men slowly start to fall apart. Ralph Fiennes plays their psychotic boss.
I haven't seen it yet, obviously. But I've been looking forward to it since I first read about it when it was in pre-production. That synopsis and the cast - many people have a problem with Colin Farrell, I realise - may cause you to ask why, which would be understandable.

Well, the why is Martin McDonagh, Writer and Director of "In Bruges". The title of this post is a bastardization of a Time Magazine headline to an article on McDonagh, reading "O'Casey Meets Scorsese". Born to expatriate Irish parents in South London in 1970, McDonagh split his childhood summer holidays between his Father's native Roscommon and Mother's native Galway, both in the West of Ireland. He seems to regard himself as an Irish writer and all of his plays have focused on Ireland to some extent. His keen outsiders eye is tempered by enough Insider knowledge to give his plays an authenticity and density which helps to ground them when the more cartoonish elements threaten to tear off into the sky. Perhaps "cartoonish" is the wrong word. McDonagh's plays are inspired, not by other theatre, but by cinema. His work recalls that of Scorsese and Malick and Lynch, all of whom he has claimed as inspirations. His work is also often compared to Quentin Tarantino's, both in terms of its high quotient of pulp, and because of his brilliant dialogue.

If there is a playwright McDonagh has been inspired by, then that is David Mamet. He has said that "American Buffalo" is his favourite play, and his work often reverberates to similar rhythms as Mamets', with the repetitive ping pong of his dialogue given a comedic twist by being spoken in an Irish accent with Irish dialects. He has written two trilogies: The Leenane Trilogy, comprising "The Beauty Queen of Leenane", "A Skull in Connemara" and "the Lonesome West" and The Aran Islands Trilogy, comprising "The Cripple of Inishmaan", "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and (the unseen, unproduced) "the Banshees of Inisheer". These plays are all extraordinary mixtures of black comedy and drama, full of physical violence and powerful, passionate language. They are all extremely funny, too. McDonagh has an enviable way with a one-liner, and he twists and contorts his plots without ever causing his characters to lose any credibility. He has won a fistful of Drama awards and prizes for this work. His 2003 play, "The Pillowman" is perhaps his masterpiece, a drama laced with horror and allegory, lacking in his usual humour, and without the Irish context of his earlier work. It would seem the perfect play for a cinematic adaptation, but McDonagh was already preparing to move to cinema with some custom-made writing.

His 2004 Short film, "Six Shooter" tells the story of Donnelly (Brendan Gleeson) and his train journey home of the day of his wife's death. He encounters a probably insane young man, who sits facing him, and is forced to deal with his attitude to death and his faith. It is McDonagh's theatrical work in miniature - funny and violent and bloody and dramatic, authentically Irish, and brilliantly acted. It won the 2006 Oscar for Best Short Film, ensuring that McDonagh would get financing for his first Feature length film. Which is where we came in.
In Bruges trailer:

So, what now gives me pause about "In Bruges", aside from Ralph Fiennes trying so hard to be Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast" (and how can an Englishman who lives in London manage such a baaad London accent?)? Well, I'm a bit haunted by Conor McPherson. Another young Irish playwright, around McDonagh's age, McPherson enjoyed a similar sudden breakthrough and success in Dublin, London and on Broadway within a few short years. They were even lumped together by some very lazy journalists as if they formed the vanguard of some new theatrical movement, despite the differences in their work. While McDonagh's strength has always been his fantastic dialogue, McPherson's early plays are all based on monologues - an actor addressing the audience, interacting with nobody else on stage. the first time he broke away from this device was with "The Weir" (1998) where he instead structured the play as a storytelling contest - so that actors performed monolgues to one another and the audience as part of the story. One quality their work did share was the tangible influence of cinema, and McPherson made a move in that direction much earlier than McDonagh. He first wrote "I Went Down" (1997), a decent little Irish gangster comedy (starring, yes, you guessed it: Brendan Gleeson) directed by Paddy Breathnach. It bore some resemblance to the Guy Ritchie brand of post-Tarantino crime cinema, with its quirky criminals and eclectic soundtrack. McPherson then directed an arty adaptation of his own play "This Lime Tree Bower", retitled "Saltwater" (2000) with Brian Cox. Its not a bad film, tight and focused, and if McPherson had perhaps allowed himself to develop modestly from there, he would have been alright.

But instead he made a leap to writing (with Neil Jordan) and directing "The Actors" (2003), a disastrous comedy starring Michael Caine and Dylan Moran as two thespians involved with smalltime gangsters. Obviously intended as a classic caper-style romp, the film features its two leads dressing up in drag and various colourful disguises, and is woefully unfunny throughout. It also wastes and misunderstands Dylan Moran's unique presence, treating him as if he were Mike Myers, showing off a range of "hilarious" voices and facial expressions. Also wasted are the rest of a fine cast including Michael Gambon and Lena Heady. Unsurprisingly, given the films complete commercial failure, McPherson has not yet returned to cinema. Now, "In Bruges" looks a lot better than "The Actors", or indeed "I Went Down", which it superficially resembles. McDonagh is a better writer than McPherson, I think. And the trailer made me laugh - aloud, no less - more than once. But still I worry. McDonagh has a great enough talent that he could actually give something new to cinema, if only he can get over that first hurdle of his debut film. Then the second hurdle of his follow-up. David Mamet did it with "House of Games" (1987) and "Things Change" (1988) by staying modest and sticking to his strengths. I'm hoping McDonagh has the sense to do the same.



Blogger Monsterwork said...

The camera is centred on a Steyr TMP when Fiennes says he doesn't want an Uzi. Though there is an Uzi with a folding stock in the arms dealer's selection.

Nothing else to say, because we already talked about it by email. Though I think you should re-write this post and say 'fillum' any time you might have said film.

4:08 pm  
Blogger David N said...

Do I say "fillum" though?

I didn't think I did. Though that should probably be "I didn't tink I did." Coz I know I say that.

I like seeing Colin Farrell using his real accent for once. And Ralph Fiennes not.

11:58 pm  
Blogger Monsterwork said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:07 pm  
Blogger Monsterwork said...

Do oi say "fillum" dough?

Oi didn't tink oi did. Dough dat should probally be "Oi didn't tink oi did." Coz oi know I say dat.

1:08 pm  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Oididn'ttinkoidid. Doughdatshouldproballybe"Oididn't tinkoidid." CozoiknowIsaydat. PleaseGod!

No but really we ought to meet up so I can lend you Big Numbers and maybe get you a Black Dossier.

9:16 pm  
Blogger David N said...

Please God - My Ma says that. I don't. And its more likely to be "problee" that probally. But your accent-envy amuses me.

Meet up - sure. When, where, how?

12:26 am  
Blogger Ross said...

The trailer makes me want to see it just for Colin Farrel saying "If I grew up on a fearm..."
The delivery feels totally authentic and at odds with his usual Hollywood persona, like he got famous as a character actor rather than blockbuster-star.

I don't think Fiennes is going for Kingsley, he's too articulate, more like a "Lock, Stock" type. Shame, he does sound really crap, he obviously can't hang around East End dives getting in character because people would say "Oooze at geezah? Issat Rawf bloke frum nat fiwm, wossaname, Inglish Payshunt or summink, loada bollux.". Too famous now, darling.

We don't envy your accent, you're just worried about what Cael will end up sounding like...

10:32 pm  
Blogger Ross said...

Oh, and he probably does look at the Uzi - it looks like bad trailer editing.

10:33 pm  

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