In Bruges

Review by Kevin Maher @KevinTMaher

Directed by

Martin McDonagh

Starring

Brendan Gleeson Clémence Poésy Colin Farrell

Anticipation.

Dodgy title. And Colin Farrell. No thanks.

Enjoyment.

It’s like prime era Mamet with relentless, unstoppable super-profane dialogue!

In Retrospect.

The ‘message’ is gone, almost instantly, but the infectious joy remains.

Playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh's debut is darker than your average hitmen-in-peril comedy.

Christmas, and foggy Bruges is fully booked, but Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) manage to snag a B&B for two weeks. They’re hitmen on the run, and they don’t know why. Only their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) knows, but for now they must sit it out in a shaggy dog tale of boredom, reflection and recrimination in ‘the most well-preserved town in Belgium.’

We know this, because Ken reads guidebooks and is generally enthusiastic about Bruges, while Ray hates it. “Bruges is a shit-hole,” he says, on several occasions. And on they go, bantering back and forth, like Mutt and Jeff or Bill and Ted, but with firearms and troubled consciences.

But then, just when you think In Bruges has nothing to say, just when you think that it’s a genre revamp and a lazy exercise in film style by its playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh, the movie suddenly hits you with a moment that warns you against doing just that.

Like Ray stumbling into the bedroom after midnight, turning on the lights, waking up and talking blithely to the irascible, increasingly pernickety Ken. “Turn off the fucking light,” hisses Ken, his head half-hidden in the pillow. “I’ve had six pints and seven bottles, and I’m not even pissed,” replies Ray. It’s a slice of life so deliciously banal, and so acutely observed that it’s almost poetry. But it gets better.

Ray, in touch with his inner thug, is caught in a vicious verbal exchange with a supercilious Canadian in a late night restaurant. “He pauses,” says Ray, narrating his own life out loud, announcing his own stage directions (this is the work of a playwright, after all), “even though he should just hit the cunt.” And guess what? He does.

But it gets better still. Because Harry arrives, and he’s got a plan. Ray must die for botching the last murder job. And Ken is the one who has to do it. But it’s not fair, because Ray is young, witty, has a rapid turn of phrase (“Stop whinging like a big gay baby!”), is played by Colin Farrell with an aberrant amount of charisma, and has already made firm friends in Bruges – including dwarf Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) and would be paramour Chloe (Clémence Poésy). But then again this is darker than your average hitmen-in-peril comedy.

As McDonagh knows, and proves, happy endings are off the menu. Instead, there’s a tightly woven mishmash of sacrificial bloodletting, of gunplay and of final, punishing redemption. It ends in tears, and in the hope that morality has been purged by Ken and Ray. It ends as it started, in Bruges, at Christmas, in fog.

Published 18 Apr 2008

Anticipation.

Dodgy title. And Colin Farrell. No thanks.

Enjoyment.

It’s like prime era Mamet with relentless, unstoppable super-profane dialogue!

In Retrospect.

The ‘message’ is gone, almost instantly, but the infectious joy remains.

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