Saturday, 21 March 2009

Hitmen -- the Good, the Bad & the Ridiculous

Sometimes my movie viewing seems to centre around certain themes, and this seems to have been Hitman Week. However I really want to focus on only two of these films.

First up is "In Bruges" (2008) which I previously saw in part during my myriad transatlantic journeys last year (my initial reactions can be found in the archives) and which I wanted to view again under better conditions. This award-winner and audience-pleaser from writer-director Martin McDonagh manages to hit a happy vein of black comedy-drama in its tale of two British-based hitmen lying low in Bruges. The fact that this is one of my own favourite cities adds to the movie's appeal, but while the older of the two as played by Brendan Gleeson is happy to soak up the ancient town's appeal, the younger and dimmer played by a foul-mouthed Colin Farrell thinks it is a dump (except he describes it rather more explicitly). Farrell has messed up his first hit of a priest by accidentally killing a young lad at the scene and their boss, played by an equally potty-mouthed Ralph Fiennes, has sent them to cool their heels until he can decide how to deal with this. I have always found Farrell's appeal to be minimal, but credit where credit is due, he shines here as he mixes "culture" with a dishy drug-dealer and her venal colleague, American tourists, and a "midget" (actually a dwarf but dum-dum doesn't know the difference). The actual story is pretty grim if looked at too closely, but it is told in such an amusing way that the violence is almost forgiveable here.

The second film worth mentioning is a far less-known British effort, American Cousins (2003). This small movie seems to have made no dent on the moviegoer's radar and is not even listed in most film guides, but we found it a little gem. Two American hitmen from New Joisey have created something of a problem for their mob while on business in Prague, and they are told to hole-up with some Scottish-Italian relations in Glasgow (which in fact does have a large ethnic community). The two are played by young Danny Nucci and older Dan Hedaya; the latter has been a favourite of mine for many years, first registering with me in his occasional role of Nick Tortelli in "Cheers", a character actor with many strings to his bow. So they find themselves involved in the life of a small local cafe where owner Gerald Lepkowski, his would-be girlfriend/manageress Shirley Henderson, and his grandpa Russell Hunter (in his last role, but remembered here forever as the character Lonely in the "Callan" TV series) are at the mercy of some local hoodlums who want the premises. Hedaya soon makes short work of the British toughs while Nucci tries his hand at producing edible fish and chips. There is a pleasant feeling of good humour throughout, despite some fairly strong violence, and when the rest of the Sopranos-style New Jersey mob appear at the denouement, one again believes that hitmen can be as human, flawed, and complex as any of us.
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