In Bruges and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 

In Bruges
Four stars (R)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Four stars (R)

Ah, where should I begin? With the story about the two hit men sent to a picturesque European city or the “you are there” feature about a young woman in communist Romania trying to help a friend get an illegal abortion? Yes, it’s Fun Films Week here at Capt’n Ed’s Movie Ranch. Actually, In Bruges, the hit man flick, contains a good deal of humor along with its dark tone and moments of startling violence, as opposed to the abortion tale 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which is every bit as grim as it sounds and then some. Both are very strong in different ways.

In In Bruges, written and directed by Irish playwright and screenwriter Martin McDonagh, a veteran hit man, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), and his rookie partner, Ray (Colin Farrell), are told by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to travel to the beautiful Belgian city of Bruges and wait for further instructions. Ken, an easygoing fellow, is in heaven, savoring the historical sights of the popular tourist destination, while Ray finds the town excruciatingly dull. Then again, Ray has a lot on his mind. On his last job — his only job — he accidentally killed a young boy while dispatching his assigned subject and the man is riddled with guilt. It seems that hit men have their own set of ethics.

McDonagh deftly mixes humor and dark drama for most of the film. The characters are three-dimensional; the men are interesting and engaging, despite their profession, and the casual bigotry that pops up throughout the film makes them seem more believable. These guys aren’t typical too-cool-for-school movie criminals and their chatter underscores the fact. Brendan Gleeson is always terrific and he does not disappoint here. Colin Farrell, whose work has been spotty of late, gives one of the best performances of his career. He also gets the best line in the movie, which I won’t repeat here, but involves an anti-American outburst in a restaurant.

Towards the end, the action picks up, building to a climax that relies on contrivance. I didn’t really mind that, though, as it fit the general Shakespearian tone of the finale. In Bruges is an odd mix of styles. I liked it more than anything else I’ve seen so far this year.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is another beast altogether. The movie, which won the Palm D’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, is a harrowing tale of an illegal abortion in 1987 Romania, shot in such a realistic style that the production almost feels like a documentary. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) has agreed to help her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get the procedure done and the film follows every step, from securing a hotel room to haggling with the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) to disposing of the fetus. Writer/director Cristian Mungiu does a remarkable job at putting the viewer into the film, employing hand-held cameras and long, unbroken takes to increase the twitchy factor.

4 Months left me shaken and sparked loud reactions from the other folks at the press screening. It made me think long and hard about freedom and responsibility and the lines between right and wrong. I’m very glad to have seen the movie — once. Being challenged is good for the soul.

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