In Bruges (2008) / Thriller-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and drug use
Running time: 107 min
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy, Thekla Reuten, Eric Godon
Cameo: Ciaran Hinds
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Review published June 16, 2008
Part cheeky crime yarn, part travelogue, In Bruges delights with crackling interplay among the characters amid funny, and startling, situations. It's difficult to believe that this is playwright Martin McDonagh's first feature film (he did craft an Oscar-winning short film, Six Shooter, years before), as he not only handles the dialogue and pacing brilliantly, but he also gets superb performances from his cast of actors, who are known for their dark and brooding characters, and yet show such a light approach that makes one wonder why they don't do more comedic work. That the film manages to be hilarious amid such disturbing themes is testament of his already formidable abilities as a filmmaker.
Bruges is a well-kept town in Belgium known for its preserved medieval architecture and artistic flourishes. It is here that two Irish hitmen get into a spot of trouble when the younger and less confident one, Ray (Farrell, Miami Vice), accidentally kills a young boy while carrying out their assigned hit. Ken (Gleeson, Beowulf) is his older and more sophisticated partner, who sees the younger as a tad uncultured, despite every attempt to get him to open up his mind. All his efforts will prove to be for naught, as their boss back home (Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) commissions Ken to put an end to Ray's misery by taking him out of commission for good.
This may be the best work yet for stars Farrell and Gleeson, who lend a good sense of camaraderie to their character interplay underneath their annoyances for one another, very similar to the classic buddy comedy film of which this plays out similar to at times, Midnight Run (though some might also compare to the interplay among the hitmen in Pulp Fiction). Although the main characters are killers, and mostly unfeeling about what they do, there is a sense of sympathy we have for them when the chips are down, especially as they show remorse for the fact that they've taken an innocent away unnecessarily.
This character-driven piece sparkles with smart, refreshing dialogue (conversations include a racially-tinged surmising of World War III, pitting "white midget vs. black midget" and why white people will lose if the Vietnamese are on the other side) and situations that overcome contrivances through believable reactions to events that are less than commonplace. There's a xenophobic bent to what goes on, with even visiting Americans as the target (fat and generally pushy), plus Canadians who are mistaken for your typical Yanks. The normally stoic Ralph Fiennes exudes a darkly comic side to his personality that suggests he should do more comedies, or at least much better ones than he's done thus far in his career.
Though the plot isn't much, McDonagh keeps events lively by continuously giving us good characters and story developments such that we don't mind the constant detours the characters traverse to get to their ultimate ends. Funny thieves and drug dealers, Dutch prostitutes and diminutive actors are all lurking in the nooks and crannies of the town, where adventure appears to develop around every corner. Even if the film had eschewed the hitman plot altogether, which it does for lengthy periods, it's fun to watch these characters continuously step on each others toes, intentionally and unintentionally, even when things turn deadly. I would compare the story development like Before Sunrise with killers instead of lovers.
One warning: the film is very violent, especially at the end when the characters turn a bit more nasty towards one another. The last two scenes in particular yield some grisly images that stay with you, perhaps even to the detriment of the overall likeability of the film, especially in one final death that is just too damaging to believe could conceivably happen given the circumstances presented. Nevertheless, while the artistic license may strain credibility in the finale, by the point they occur, the entertainment value has already been had, and the recommendation secure enough to withstand the caveats and reservations. Bruges may be set up to be a purgatory (perhaps even Hell) for the protagonists of our story, but for lovers of wit and character interplay, In Bruges is pure heaven.
©2008 Vince Leo