[ed. note: With Colin Farrell set to play the spooky vampire next door neighbor in this weekend's horror comedy Fright Night, it's once again clear that the Irish actor has turned out to have one of the most interesting acting careers going today. He went from a breakout role in Joel Schumacher's Vietnam movie Tigerland in 2000 to the crucial mistake of dyeing his hair blond for Oliver Stone's Alexander in 2004, which led to generic performances in a string of generic big-budget movies. He then went on to recover by giving terrific performances in just about everything, from a small-scale Woody Allen crime movie to a raunchy summer comedy.
But with so many different Colin Farrell performances to choose from, how to you decide which is best? It's a debate that's been tearing the Cinema Blend staff apart, so we've decided to take the question to you guys. Starting today and running every day this week, we'll have our pitches for our favorite Farrell performances. Mack Rawden kicked things off for us with Horrible Bosses, Sean O’Connell stepped up with a defense of Farrell's work in one of his worst critical bombs, Daredevil, and Katey Rich stuck up for Farrell as the quiet supporting player in Crazy Heart. Now Eric closes things out with a tribute to Farrell's Golden Globe-winning performance in In Bruges.]
Almost as quickly as Colin Farrell became famous he seemed to be washed up, plagued by critical bombs like Oliver Stone's Alexander and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and a near-constant presence in the tabloids. Then he made In Bruges. Teamed up with Brendan Gleeson as a pair of hitmen hiding out in Belgium after a job gone wrong, Farrell’s performance is absolute brilliance, demonstrating range that nobody knew he had. A bipolar turn that has the audience in hysterics in one scene and on the verge of tears in the next, it’s a masterful display that singlehandedly proved why Farrell deserved the career revival that's come since.
As beautiful and profound as In Bruges is, what makes it such an incredible film--and what really makes Farrell so remarkable in it-- is its humor. His character Ray has a artless, childlike mind that acts on impulse rather than reason. He doesn’t have the patience to take pleasure in Belgian history or architecture, but present him with a ketamine-fueled dwarf and he becomes entranced. When trying to convince an obese American family that they shouldn’t go to the top of a tower because of the windy stairs, he doesn’t have the tact to explain it to them nicely; instead he just calls them “a bunch of fucking elephants.” Though Farrell hadn't been known as a comedic actor, his timing in In Bruges is impeccable
But it's what lies beneath the comedy that makes Farrell's performance here so strong. The reason for the hitmen’s exile in Belgium is because Ray accidentally shot and killed a child while on his first assignment. Even the thought of doing something so horrific would send most people into a state of permanent despair, but what makes Farrell’s turn such a revelation is his determination to control his depression and shove his demons as far down as they’ll go. As anyone who’s tried this can attest, it doesn’t work, and you can always see the pain in Ray’s eyes. When he does finally break down after his failed suicide attempt, it’s gut-wrenching. It transcends acting and becomes true emotion.
The reason why In Bruges is Colin Farrell’s best film is because between 2000 and 2008 he never saw a script or a character at as good as the one Martin McDonagh placed in his hands. Ray is a dark, tragic character loaded with demons, but also, in many ways, a child bored by museums and entertained by midgets. It’s a cliché, but there’s no other way to say it: Farrell doesn’t just play the character; he becomes him. He accepts Ray’s past and sins as his own, and you can see it in every eye twitch and hear it in every line. In 2008 In Bruges completely altered the path of Colin Farrell's career, and with good reason: it’s the best work he’s ever done.