Atonement (2007)

Rated: R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality
Length: 123 minutes
Grade: DDDD=D
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $133 million ($51 US, $77 Intl., $15 DVD)

Written by: Ian McEwan, who has written a bunch of novels I’ve never heard of, including Enduring Love, The Innocent, The Good Son, and The Cement Garden.
Directed by: Joe Wright, who directed 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and some TV miniseries.
Starring: Saorise Ronan, James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Juno Temple, and Romola Garai.

As a young girl, Briony Tallis sees some things that she doesn’t fully comprehend, but they wind up making her think that a close friend of her sister’s is actually a sexual predator, and he is sent to jail based on her false allegation. He opts to enlist in World War II to get out of jail, and the rest of the movie is the story of him trying to return to the sister who knows the truth about him and still loves him.

Entertainment Value: D
Nominated for 7 Oscars, including best picture, and one win for music. Obviously I didn’t agree. For starters, I hated the ending. Also, the flashback/disjointed way it was told just didn’t sit well with me because I couldn’t figure out when things were happening, although in other movies I don’t normally have this problem. This struck me as a big production artsy movie that impresses the Hollywood crowd, but not me. And there’s something else here which I’ll mention below.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality NA
There’s a lot of bad stuff here, including some nudity, a couple of sex scenes, a rape, and several very unsettling graphic war images. It’s not Saving Private Ryan or anything, but it’s definitely properly rated R. Also, this is one of the few movies I’ve seen where the most awful word is used, no, not an F-derivative.

Significant Content: D
Okay, here’s the problem. This movie is genius, brilliant, wonderful, insightful, amazing…only it’s not. I’m torn on grading this movie because as a Christian I think there is an overwhelmingly great point here, but I can’t give the makers of the movie credit for it because I don’t think they intended it to be seen this way. The whole point of the movie is about a woman trying to make up for her past misdeeds through good works and eventually through a fictional novel. But all of this fails, and I think this is a stark demonstration that all our human efforts to right the world are doomed to failure and amount to nothing, no matter how meaningful they feel to us. Unfortunately, the movie itself believes that the end solution of Briony really works, but I see it as narcissistic self-indulgence that reinforces the mistaken notion Hollywood types have that what they do really matters when it doesn’t. Since I think the movie endorses her final solution, I rate it a D. If I thought they were intending the audience to realize how absurd her final solution was, then I’d have to give it at least a B.

Artistic/Thought Value: D See my previous comments.

Discussion Questions:
~Was Briony’s final solution really a successful act of atonement or something else? Was it admirable or pathetic? What would you say to her if you had the chance to interact with her?
~Did Briony ever really grow up?
~Do you think the makers of the movie intended us to see her act as a success or as a total and abject failure?
~What do you make of the fact that she initially tried to atone for her behavior by serving in a convent hospital?
~How did class prejudices play into the false accusation being leveled against Robbie?
~What’s the significance or purpose of Briony not revealing her real first name to the soldiers she treats?

Overall Grade: D
I only wish I could believe they intended what I saw in it.

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some strong language.
Length: 93 minutes
Grade: CCCC=C
Budget: A few tens of thousands of dollars, probably.
Box Office: $0.6 million (0.4 U.S., 0.2 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Morgan Spurlock, whose previous documentary “Super-Size Me” was very interesting.
Starring: Morgan Spurlock, his pregnant wife, and a bunch of Middle Easterners

On the brink of being first-time father, Spurlock heads off to the Middle East to meet as many people as possible under the pretense of hunting for Osama bin Laden.

Entertainment Value: C
Eh. It wasn’t really funny. It wasn’t really deep. It was a weird hybrid of cartoon satire, left-of-center cynical political history, and real life conversations with people. I’m glad we watched it, but it turns out to be a lot less of anything than I had hoped.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language C, Illegality NA
There is enough language to justify the PG-13 rating, although, oddly, it’s only comprised of about five words throughout the movie. Also, there is some discussion of terrorism (obviously) and repressive governments using torture. PG-13 is right, although it surely could have been made PG with a little more discretion.
Significant Content: C
We’re all people, and there are more of us normal ones than there are of psychotic ones like Osama bin Laden. It’s not acceptable to protect our freedoms by sacrificing the freedoms of people in other countries. The United States has done stupid and evil things in the fight against communism. Osama bin Laden is just one man. Most of the world is pretty reasonable, except for Saudi Arabia and Hasidic Jews, of course. Palestine will eventually be a recognized state.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Why was the pregnancy included in this movie? I still don’t understand. I also don’t understand the use of the Osama video game, which was dropped in the last half of the movie. I guess he’s saying that Americans are so stupid about foreign affairs because it’s not as interesting as playing Halo 3?

Discussion Questions:
~What lessons do you draw from this movie? Consider some specific scenes and your reaction to them: the Saudi school boys, the Saudi women, the Hasidic Jews, and the Egyptian neighborhood bombers.
~Why does Spurlock keep referring to professional wrestling wherever he goes?
~What image of people around the world does this movie give you? Is it different from the one you draw from watching the news?
~This movie shows Muslims praying again and again, especially in public places. Why does public prostrated prayer seem so weird to us but normal to them? Would we be better off if people prayed in public this way more often?
Overall Grade: C
Eh. A little disappointing only because I expected better from him after Super-Size Me.

Married Life (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and a scene of sexuality
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: DCAB+=B
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $2.4 million (1.5 U.S., 0.9 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Ira Sachs, who previously hasn’t made anything recognizable, although the story comes from a 50s era John Bingham pulp novel.
Starring: Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, and David Wenham.

Feeling trapped in a solid but loveless marriage, Harry is on the brink of leaving his wife for the younger and more emotionally satisfying Kay, but he doesn’t know how to spare his wife (Pat) the pain. So he plans to poison her to spare her the grief. Meanwhile, Harry’s philandering best friend (Richard) goes to meet the young Kay and winds up trying to seduce her away from Harry to himself.

Entertainment Value: D
Boring. Really, really boring. But more than boring, it was unbelievable. I know they were trying to do an homage piece to the film noirs of the 30s and 40s, but there’s a good reason we don’t make films like this anymore. They’re not believable, or at least the characters in this case are not.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language A, Illegality C
Although this is a movie about infidelity, very little is shown except some back nudity and a few scenes with implied sexuality. The language is fairly clean. The people drink alcohol pretty regularly, and there is also plenty of smoking. A man tries to poison his wife through her medicine. I’m not sure quite why this is PG-13, really. I’d say PG-8, maybe PG-10. It’s far more tame than the CW, not that that should be seen as an endorsement of the CW.
Significant Content: A
Here’s where this movie shines, because, even though it’s a story about intended infidelity, it’s a movie that ultimately winds up endorsing marriage wholeheartedly, both for those who want to stray and for those who have never thought they’d bother marrying. Clearly, the movie is teaching that you don’t know what you’ve got until you nearly lose it.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
Although the plot and characters weren’t believable, the general feel of a film noir was very well accomplished here. Also, the thought value of the movie was tremendous. I thought the insight about how mistresses want to steal away the man who is now the result of so many years of formation by his loyal wife was wonderful. It’s also sort of interesting because it inverts the normal ideas about why men cheat since Harry is looking for an emotional connection, not just physical sex, which his wife quite adequately provides.

Discussion Questions:
~The movie opens by calling marriage a kind of disease one might wish to avoid. Do you know anyone who lives life as if this is true? Is this something that women typically think?
~Do you think men cheat for sex or for something other than sex, such as emotional connection or admiration? Is Pat responsible for putting Harry at risk of wanting to leave her?
~Does Harry love Pat? Why does he intend to kill her? Is this a selfish plan or a generous one?
Why don’t Harry and Pat have children? Would children have changed the dynamics in this movie significantly?
~“A woman needs someone to love, and to be loved by someone.” Is this true? Is it more true of women than of men?
~“I’m not sure you can build happiness on the unhappiness of someone else.” What does this mean, and what applications does it have for your own life?
~How does Richard use his insights to manipulate people? Does this seem to fit the character of a playboy?
~Do you think that when younger women come to tempt middle-aged men away from their wives that it’s greed on their part to want a finished product they’ve done nothing to earn?
~To what degree is marriage necessary for real happiness? Does it ever interfere with real happiness?
~Why is it so intoxicating to experience someone else being in love with you? Is this a form of worship?
Overall Grade: B
Great themes and discussion material for a movie you pretty much have to force yourself to watch all the way through.

Redbelt (2008)

Rated: R for strong language.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $7 million
Box Office: $2 million ($2.3 US, $0.1 million Intl.)

Written and Directed by: David Mamet, the genius behind The Winslow Boy, Wag the Dog, television’s The Unit, House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, the Untouchables and the genre-defining classic Glengarry Glenross.
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Max Martini, Alice Braga, and Emily Mortimer, with appearances by Tim Allen, Joe Mantegna, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon, Jennifer Grey, Ray Mancini, and Dan Inosanto.

A struggling expert on Brazilian jiu-jitsu finds himself torn between his need for money and loyalty to his ideals and the purity of his form of combat when he is railroaded into fighting in a mixed martial-arts competition.

Entertainment Value: B
I wasn’t even going to see this until I learned that it is a David Mamet project. For the record, David Mamet is probably my favorite writer for stage and film. As expected, this was intricate, clever, and substantial. And the actors were all excellent. However, it just wasn’t the brilliant work I normally expect from him. There were implausible elements and it all wrapped up in a strange and almost too-quick a fashion. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B+, Violence C, Language D-, Illegality D
Several scenes take place in a nightclub, and people regularly consume alcohol and tobacco. Although it’s a movie about martial arts, the violence is mostly minor in fight scenes, except for a suicide which is shown in the background once. Rape is discussed. The language certainly merits an R rating, although, like most of Mamet’s work, it never seems gratuitously used. Gambling is also a central theme.

Significant Content: B
There are some great deep themes in this movie. The most obvious one is the dilemma between pursuing something purely and profiting very little or allowing it to be corrupted and commercialized to great financial gain. Warriors versus entertainers is the main question, and what lengths would you go to do remain pure? Another major issue here is learning how to control yourself and respond wisely to every challenge and knowing how to find a solution to every problem even when you want to give up. Honor is also a major theme here.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As a Mamet work, there’s certainly an artistic feel to this movie, and there are plenty of interesting things to discuss here, both ethically and even spiritually. One small note, the movie uses Mike’s real (in the story) combat experience to mock the way war films use experts to make the fake look more realistic. But this very manipulation in turn makes us view Mike with greater credibility as the sort of expert who knows such things. Since Mamet is ever the planner, I trust this contradiction is meant to be noticed. But Ejiofor never served in the military, so it makes me wonder whether Mamet is conflicted about his own occupation in this regard.

Discussion Questions:
~Which belt matters more to Michael? What is his choice of the belts saying? Which belt carries more honor? Why?
~Mike says that he doesn’t like to compete because it imposes artificial rules on a fight. Compare his attitude about this with his embrace of a wide array of social rules of morality and etiquette. Is he being inconsistent?
~In a couple of different scenes, people are told they cannot smoke where they’re standing. Why are these ill-fitting moments included in the film? Is Mamet trying to make some statement by contrasting the social disapproval of smoking with the allowance of every other sort of vice (drinking, gambling, fighting, lying, sex) that is going on at these places?
~Who in this film demonstrates honor and who demonstrates disrepute? How important is honor? Is honor another word for pride? Is honor something that a Christian should endorse? Is it fair to say that Jesus’ mission was to embrace dishonor for a greater purpose?
~When Mike teaches Laura that standing at a distance equals safety, what else is being implied about life?
~“Breathe. Relax. Control your emotions. Make the other guy get tired. The moves work. There is always an escape.” These are just some of the elemental teachings of Mike’s dojo. Comment on their application outside of martial arts, especially the last two. If these concepts were applied to social skills, what “moves” would we teach people to help them become more adept at such things?
~Is this movie pro-gambling or not?
~Discuss the wisdom of the early decision to act as if nothing happened with the gun?
~The Bible says that you cannot serve God and Mammon. Comment on the similarity between this idea and the ideas of this movie?
~Consider the idea that films are essentially con games. What are the similarities and differences?
~To what degree is Mike’s wife right in her criticism of him? Did Mike marry wisely?
~Why do you think so many martial artists wanted to participate in this film which exposes and debunks their own sport? Why would Mamet write a film which seems to level criticisms against films that are true even of his own works?

Overall Grade: B
It’s not the best Mamet work to date, but it’s certainly a very interesting one well worth watching if you don’t mind the language.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Rated: R for graphic bloody violence.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: B+FB+A=A-
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $187 million ($53 US, $100 Intl., $34 DVD)

Written by: Stephen Sondheim, who has done a bugillion soundtracks and won a Tony in 1979 for this musical adaptation of this Victorian era story.
Directed by: Tim Burton, best known for Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas, and the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although I say his masterpiece was Big Fish.
Starring: Johnny Depp (didn’t I say this was a Tim Burton film?), Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman (born for the role), Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jamie Campbell Bower.

After returning from a long stint in prison, an unjustly convicted barber seeks revenge against the judge who stole his wife and daughter from him and any others who get in his way by cutting their throats and serving them in meat pies to the locals.

Entertainment Value: B+
This is really excellent stuff, although I’m always reluctant to give an A to a movie that is only an adaptation of such a well-known existing musical. The play itself is outstanding, one of my mother’s all-time favorites, by the way. Tim Burton is the perfect director to take on this task, as his theatrical darkness is ideally suited to this story.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence F, Language B, Illegality F
There is some swilling of ale, and a young boy passes out drinking gin. There is an implied but not really shown public sexual assault. There are occasional profanities in the music. But the real issue here is obviously the extremely violent, bloody content and the fact that the film is full of murder, murder, and more murder. Tim Burton movies get a PG-13 rating just on principle, but this is definitely an R.

Significant Content: B+
This movie is essentially about injustice, revenge, forgiveness, guilt, and even salvation. But it is also a real commentary on the broader society, which is full of its own injustices and barbarisms.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Tim Burton rarely gets anything less. One thing I will recommend is that you watch it with the subtitles on. I found some of the song lyrics to be muddled underneath the music, and having subtitles on really helped this. What makes this movie so interesting is the complexity of it all. Though the plot on the surface is clearly interesting in its own right, there are lots of other elements to stimulate thinking. What is Sweeney Todd a metaphor for? What does real justice look like? There’s a downright Christian element here in the comment that we all deserve to die, uttered quite amazingly by both Todd and by the judge.

Discussion Questions:
~This is a musical with loads of gruesome killing? Why present it as a musical? Is that intended to make it comedic? Absurd? How would it have been different if it had not been a musical?
~Is revenge satisfying? What would Sweeney Todd’s answer be? How would forgiveness have helped him? Did his revenge accomplish only evil, or also some good? Was it enough to justify the bad? How would this movie have been different if Todd had been a Christian?
~How does unjust imprisonment affect people? Compare the Count of Monte Cristo and even consider John McCain’s experience, for example.
~Which of Todd’s victims deserved death, if any? Which did not? What about the idea here that everyone deserves death? What does the Bible say? What happens to the conscience and judgment of a man who once heads down the path of violence and murder?
~If I told you that an Evangelical Christian had written this and you approached it from that perspective, what Biblical themes, concepts, or illustrations can you see here?
~What is the difference between Sweeney Todd and Judge Turpin?
~Again and again, Todd chooses to pursue his bloodlust over his lost wife even though Mrs. Lovett is offering him new love. Why is this?
~When he says he is full of joy in killing, do you believe him?
~In what ways is our culture of violence symbolized by the barber?
~A Greek Tragedy is predicated on the idea that unexpected and great tragedies befall people because of their essential character flaws. How does that describe this film? What are the various characters’ flaws?
~Do you think the townspeople knew what was going on? Did they turn a blind eye to it because they liked the pies so much? Do you think that people generally want to know the truth or want to believe whatever makes it easier to enjoy the things they want? Why didn't anyone pay attention to the old woman?
~The Bible uses the metaphor of a very sharp sword for the Word of God. Is there any connection with the razors? What do the razors symbolize?
~In what ways is this a movie about pride and vanity? Consider the judge, but also consider that Sweeney Todd is a barber.
~Is this movie a metaphor for people who support Capital Punishment?
Overall Grade: B+, although I should probably grade it higher even as I’m writing this. In fact, I think I will. A-. On the spot revision. That would make my mom happy.

What Happens In Vegas (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual and crude content, and language, including a drug reference.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: BCB+B=B
Budget: $35 million
Box Office: $223 million ($80 US, $131 Intl., $12 DVD)

Written by: Dana Fox, whose only previous work was the screenplay for the fairly entertaining Wedding Date.
Directed by: Tom Vaughan, who has mostly done a little television writing before.
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Treat Williams, Dennis Miller, Dennis Farina, and Queen Latifah.

Jack just lost his job, and Joy just lost her fiancĂ©e, so they both head to Vegas with their best friends and wind up married after much alcohol. In the morning, Jack wins a 3 million dollar jackpot with her quarter, and the judge won’t grant them a divorce unless they promise to work on their marriage for 6 months.

Entertainment Value: B
It was dodgy at first, but Ashton Kutcher certainly has a knack for comedy, and we laughed many times throughout this movie. The plot is not totally unbelievable, and the cameos make it better than it would have been without them.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence B, Language C, Illegality NA
Alcohol, certainly, is an issue here, especially in the beginning. There are sexual scenes and temptations offered, but nothing is shown other than in the beginning. A woman jokes about punching men in the groin a lot and does so at the end. The language and general vulgarity is definitely PG-13 caliber.

Significant Content: B+
Though I’m tempted to go higher, precisely because this is my favorite category of movie: one with the right conclusions that will be watched mostly by the people who most need to hear them. There are only two messages here: immature men need to grow up and stop acting like children, and marriage is about working it out not about compatibility.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I originally had this as a C, but I upgraded it because I’m beginning to think Ashton Kutcher is a genius. When he does love movies, he manages to appeal to the immature audiences while delivering a pro-love, pro-marriage, pro-commitment message. This has been true in Just Married, A Lot Like Love, and Guess Who. So, a movie that doesn’t seem like high art or moral propaganda might well turn out to be effective for precisely that reason.

Discussion Questions:
~Which is more valuable: money or love? How do the characters’ answer to this question change over the course of the movie?
~Even though Jack and Joy were married when they had sex, why does it feel like this wasn’t the case? Would you consider their sexual encounter moral or immoral? Why?
~What is this movie trying to say about divorce and making a marriage work? What do you think would be the result if every couple wanting a divorce had to attend relationship counseling and prove they were really trying at it to qualify?
~Do you think it’s true that two people who are simply forced to stay together by factors outside their control can eventually learn how to love and cherish one another? If so, what does this mean for the concept of arranged marriage? If society can have such a strong impact on helping marriages work out, does this obligate the rest of us to work toward such a marriage-reinforcing culture? In this regard, evaluate the behaviors of Tipper and Hater. Are they good friends? What is the correct role of real friends in such a situation? Does it matter what caliber of friends you have?
~The movie really turns a corner when the characters are put in positions to help, serve, or understand one another more seriously. What implications does this entail for dating?
~Were the people who watched this movie likely to grasp the message that working out your problems and not being allowed to quit on the marriage can actually make things work?
~Christianity Today didn’t review this movie. Why not? Is the marketing of this movie as a debauched comedy good for the real audience that needs to watch it?
~Does this movie teach the idea that marriage has a domesticating, maturing effect on men? Do you believe this is true in real life?
~Las Vegas has famously marketed itself with the slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” How does this movie respond? Is the idea of a moral holiday healthy for people?
~Is there a connection in this movie between the two characters moving toward jobs that they really value and their changing attitudes about each other? What do you think it's trying to say about meaning, passion, and superficiality?
Overall Grade: B
Fairly entertaining, definitely good lessons, and a movie that succeeded at the box office with a lot of people who needed to see it.

Chaos Theory (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
Length: 85 minutes
Grade: CDB+D=C
Budget: Unknown
Box Office: $237,000

Written by: Daniel Taplitz, who’s only written things you haven’t heard of.
Directed by: Marcos Siega, who has only directed television before, including Dexter and guest directing episodes of October Road, Shark, Cold Case, and one of my favorite new shows, Life.

Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Sarah Chalke, and Mike Erwin.
Summary: Frank Allen lectures on time management, but when his schedule is thrown off one day his well-orchestrated life comes apart at the seams and he eventually embraces a chaotic and random philosophy instead.

Entertainment Value: C
It was a little bit funny. It was a little bit awkward. It felt very much like a long television episode, which makes sense given the director. But so many of the ideas are fascinating that it’s lack of real great entertainment value rescues it from being otherwise fairly average.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality D, Violence C, Language C, Illegality NA
The big issues here are infidelity, reckless behavior, and language. I was a little surprised that this was PG-13, and I would definitely put it on the R-15 or higher level.

Significant Content: B+
Though there are lots of smaller issues here, the two biggies in this movie are the nature of love and the value of planning. First, real love is brilliantly portrayed as a choice rather than an emotion, both regarding spouses and children. Second, life is unpredictable, and the key to happiness is learning to embrace this fact rather than going off either of the deep ends of hypercontrol or deliberate chaos.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
Production value here was particularly low. I felt like I was almost watching a television pilot. Not quite, but almost. Also, the setup to the whole plot felt terribly contrived and awkward. Nonetheless, as you’ll see in a moment, there’s plenty to talk about here.

Discussion Questions:
~To what degree do you think that life is predictable? What do you think of the idea that we should embrace chance and whim? Looking back on your own life, how many of the major developments in it seem tied to a random or chance circumstance? Do you believe it was chance or do you attribute those things to God?
~Legalism is the idea that every element of life can be controlled with specific rules that create a good result. To what degree do you think that time management philosophies are legalistic?
~Do you believe in fate? What about free will? Is there any chance in life?
~Do you think love is more a matter of passion or a matter of choice? Regardless, how important is it to make the choice to act lovingly toward those people you’ve already made commitments to, even if you don’t feel loving toward them?
~The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. How does this relate to this movie?
~Is Frank’s life rendered meaningless by the revelation he receives about his family?
~Compare and contrast Frank’s life with that of his aimless friend.

Overall Grade: C
Despite the high quality thought content, it’s so mediocre otherwise that I can’t really endorse it. But I don’t oppose it either. It’s a C, and that’s what C means. Adequate.

In Bruges (2008)

Rated: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use.
Length: 107 minutes
Grade: BFBB+=B
Budget: Unknown
Box Office: $30 million ($8 US, $19 Intl, $3 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Martin McDonagh, with his first full-length movie.
Starring: Colin Farrel, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, and Clemence Poesy.

After two hitmen accidentally kill a little girl in England, their boss sends them to Bruges to lay low. Little does the junior partner know, but his mentor has been tasked to kill him. When he refuses, the boss comes to Bruges to handle the job himself. Meanwhile the medieval town of Bruges is host to a budding romance between Farrell and an exotic girl who deals drugs to the stars while on location for a strange movie.

Entertainment Value: B
You have to listen fast, because they don’t talk slowly. But this movie is hilarious, mostly for the offhand comments and quippy banter between Gleeson and Farrell. I found myself regularly laughing and then at other times staring in something like wonder at the depth and symbolism that this movie manages to combine, especially for a first effort from the writer/director.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sexuality C, Violence F, Language F, Illegality F
It’s pretty much awful, although not particularly in the sex stuff, though there are scenes involving sex with prostitutes and some minor nudity. The plot revolves around drug dealing, people use drugs, and there’s plenty of alcohol use. But of course the main issues here are hit-men, violence, killing, and more violence. This is definitely an adults only movie.

Significant Content: B
To me, this is exactly the sort of movie Christians could and should watch with their non-Christian friends because it will offer so many interesting things to talk about and expand into theological issues. This movie is essentially about guilt, justice/consequences, sacrifice, and redemption. All the other stuff is just trappings to dress it up and make it interesting.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
In one sense, this is a very vulgar and ugly movie. But in so many other ways, it takes this filth-drenched ugliness and finds something beautiful underneath. This is definitely an art film, by which I mean that it’s intended to not be neat and conveniently packaged, but instead is mean to be rewatched and discussed rather than given a simple thumbs up or down.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Ken change his mind about killing Ray? What does this decision say about him? Have you ever been angry with someone but then had your emotions change when you saw them being vulnerable or depressed?
~When Harry decides to take his own life, why does he do so? To what degree would you say that he is a man of principle? Are evil people usually men of principle? Would you say that evil men are those who have too much commitment to some principles while not recognizing or honoring enough other important ones? What are the differences or similarities between the suicide attempts of Harry, Ray, and Ken?
~What might have happened if an evangelist had been able to interact with any of these three characters? Who do you think would be the most likely to accept Christ?
~Why does Harry send Ray to Bruges? What motivates him to want to do something nice for Ray before he has him killed? Is this a coherent agenda?
~What is this movie trying to say in the way it uses children, whether the initial victim, the midget, or the pregnant woman in the hotel?
~Is this a fairy tale? How so? If fairy tales were told with realism, would they normally look like this?
~Is there a Christ figure in this movie? Why does Ken do what he does for Ray? Is anyone saved or redeemed in this movie?
~Do you think this movie glorifies crime or assassination?
~Do hit-men have the sort of consciences that Ray and Ken seem to have? Are they “real people” when they’re not committing murder?
~Who has a more healthy reaction to the evil thing they have done: Ray or Ken? Is Ken sublimating his guilt by wanting to see the sights?
~Compare this movie with some other movies about assassins such as The Jackal, Grosse Point Blank, The Matador, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Bourne trilogy, Pulp Fiction, Road to Perdition, Kill Bill, Whole 9 and 10 yards, and Replacement Killers. Why do you think so many movies have been made about assassins? Why are they always given such engaging personalities? Do you believe there are assassins? Do you believe the movies portray them accurately? Is there a significant difference between movies about vigilantes and movies about assassins?
~Is Bruges purgatory? How so, or not?
Overall Grade: B
It’s horribly vulgar, but also wonderfully interesting. I found it both fun and deep, but I can also see how many people might not particularly enjoy it.