While In Bruges is a highly enjoyable romp through what is arguably Belgium’s most beautiful city, I have a few words of warning for those planning on seeing the film. The marketing campaign behind Martin McDonagh’s feature film debut would like you to believe that the film is an edgy shoot-em-up thriller, with action scenes galore and constant tension to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as In Bruges is better described as a darkly comic buddy movie with interspersed shots of the gorgeous city in amongst the coarse yet witty banter. It’s best not to expect an action flick, as only the third act of the film could even come close to being described as such.
Ken and Ray (played by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell respectively) are two hit men forced to hide out in Bruges after their last job goes horribly wrong. While they await further instructions from their boss, Harry, the two characters engage with the city and its inhabitants, taking in the sights in between their hilariously offensive verbal exchanges. It’s only after Harry (played expertly by Ralph Fiennes) comes into the picture that conflict emerges and the violence escalates.
In fact, the first half hour of the film would fit perfectly as a promotional tool for the Bruges tourism industry, with wide shots of the city’s architecture and even some informative scenes about the history behind the local landmarks. The fact that Ray absolutely abhors the city and its culture provides a relatable character for those who find this kind of cultural indulgence to be pretentious.
However, while the wide, occasionally lingering shots of the city and landscape are somewhat masturbatory, it’s entirely forgivable considering just how aesthetically pleasing the city manages to be. Outside of these shots, McDonagh’s directing is tight and well-paced, and is reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s earlier works, filmed with extreme and surprising confidence by a director with little film experience.
The script, also written by McDonagh, is certainly the highlight of the film, with Tarantino-esque dialogue that is far less pop-culture oriented, and naturally delivered by the entire cast, especially the two leads. Its offensiveness also gives an authenticity to the characters who quite clearly have been on the wrong side of the tracks for too long.
It is also a pleasant surprise to discover that Colin Farrell can actually act, especially after the string of awful movies he’s been involved with over the past few years. (Alexander, The New World and Miami Vice to name just a few).
As charming (and occasionally whiney) hitman, Ray, Farrell is perfectly cast, and the characters’ tragic history and current woes warrant genuine emotion from the actor who manages to give us some poignant scenes without dipping into maudlin territory. The character also proves to be an excellent foil to his more culturally inclined partner, and the chemistry between Gleeson and Farrell as they bicker is absolutely electric.
Gleeson also shines as Ken, the straight-man of the duo, who, as he constantly calms the boisterous Ray, brings a subtle charm to his performance as the more experienced father figure. Fiennes makes a last minute entry into the movie, but one certainly not to be missed, especially the scenes that he shares with Gleeson, which are both tense and affecting.
Despite a generally glowing review so far, In Bruges is certainly not a movie for everyone, so yet another word of warning, especially to gay audience members (or black, midgets or any combination of these groups): the movie is riddled with offensive dialogue which could be construed as hate speech by the easily offended.
However, in context, this offensiveness is a perfect way to show the ignorance and stupidity of the characters who partake in it, and adds to the film’s comedic value in its sheer hilariousness.
In Bruges is indeed very dark in its humour, and is basically a fantastic two-man show for most of its runtime. However, the last third of the movie erupts into a violent conflict and an ending that will come as quite a shock to most viewers.
However, despite a slightly incongruous ending, the movie is both incredibly watchable and beautiful. It has also provided redemption for Farrell who has proved that he is a far greater actor than he has ever let on before.