Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short Review: In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

The debut feature of Irish theater writer and director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, was filmed and takes place entirely in the Belgian medieval town that the title claims. A clever blend of black comedy and suspense thriller, In Bruges opened the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, claimed star Colin Farrell a Golden Globe for Best Actor Musical or Comedy and Martin McDonagh a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. It is one of the funniest, cleverest, best acted and most entertaining films of 2008.

Set almost entirely in Bruges, the action takes place over the period of a few days. Two hit men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeseon) are sent by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to hide out and lay low in the Medieval Belgian city of Bruges and await further instructions. The reason for these precautions have stemmed from Ray's rookie hit man job, which resulted in his accidental killing of a young boy. Wracked with guilt over the boy's death, Ray is morose, disinterested and withdrawn, while his senior colleague embraces the beauty of the town and takes the opportunity to sight-see and explore the medieval buildings. Ken maintains that they should remain in their hotel room and await Harry's instructions, while Ray craves nothing more than a drink or two at the pub.

During his nightly excursions he sparks up a romance with Chloe (Clemence Poesy), a local drug dealer and thief, who moonlights as a production assistant, and befriends dwarf actor Jimmy (Jordan Prentice). A date with Chloe results in a confrontation with a Canadian couple, and later her jealous partner-in-crime, while a cocaine party reveals Jimmy's racial prejudices. Ken finally receives a call from Harry, with the dreaded instructions to kill Ray. His killing of a child, even accidentally, is unforgivable, and Harry insists that Ray must face the penalty. Ken meets with one of Harry's Belgian associates, picks up a handgun and follows Ray to the park with the intention to kill him. He discovers on arrival that Ray, wracked to the edge with guilt, has decided to end his own life. Concerned for his young colleague he stops Ray's suicide, instead of obeying his boss' instructions. Convincing Ray to leave the city and keep moving, Ken calls Harry to personally reveal the situation. An enraged Harry consequently makes his way to Bruges to take care of business himself, culminating in an exciting and intense showdown amidst the lively town centre by night.

In Bruges effortlessly balances border-line silly dark comedy with tragic themes of death and mortality, as Ray and Ken come to terms with guilt, morality and redemption amidst the beautifully captured storybook tranquility of Bruges. Colin Farrell, who is genuinely funny here, but also impeccably crippled with guilt, gives his greatest performance yet. He was the worthy winner of the Golden Globe. Brendan Gleeson is always fantastic, but Ralph Fiennes' turn as the hot-headed, foul-mouthed mob boss is also noteworthy. The dialogue is so rich and the performances so genuine and honest, that the characters are effortlessly developed throughout. Sometimes it only takes a facial expression or a reaction, or a nervous twitch, to reveal so much. With a few minor exceptions, most of the sequences feature only a few performers (Farrell and Gleeson, Farrell and Poesy etc.) and McDonagh's theatre experience is on display here. Full of quotable lines, the engaging exchanges between its characters, amidst the gloriously captured setting, really works. I felt it was one of the best films of the year and should have been considered for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture.

In Bruges is certainly an adult drama; the profanity is frequent but used to great comedic effect, and the violence is quite intense. It is also a very emotionally literate film. Ray has committed a very grave sin. Assigned to kill a priest, he decides to pull the trigger during confession of all places. In the ensuing shots, one of the bullets exist the body and strikes an alter boy in the head. This is a horrible situation, but you can't help but feel terribly for Ray, because he is so obviously remorseful. While you are against Harry taking down Ray, you also feel that he has every right too. It is a film that tears your emotions apart, but remains consistently engaging and entertaining, a rare gem to be successful at both.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (A-)


  1. Nice review,
    I liked this one a lot, it was just the kind of humour I like and definitely one of Farrell's best performances...

    And of course, Ralph Fiennes was excellent.

  2. Short review?? Can't imagine what your regular review would be like :D I want to watch this one for the cast, but the violence is a big deterrence, I don't have the stomach for those.