In Bruges (2008)

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Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s first feature is an interesting one; it comes off the back of the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter and really introduces him to film after such success in the theatre as a playwright.

Bruges is a film which seemed to slip off the radar a little, when initially released, and it is difficult to remember hearing much buzz about it at the time. There are obvious reasons for its somewhat smaller following, which are evident from most probably from the trailor. It is particularly dark toned in terms of its humour, especially towards dwarves, those of other ethnicities, those who are over-weight, among others. I also believe many may have been turned off by the initial indications towards the plot. It all seems laid out for us, seemingly, within the first ten minutes and in many ways experiences a slight lull in pacing for the briefest of times. Although enough with the negativity, because this is a film with many a positive note and is in fact a very well conceived piece.

The charm and humanity of the characters, being both funny and heart-wrenchingly dramatic as the film goes on, is particularly well done. McDonagh’s attention to character and knack for dialogue is evidently something which derives from his roots as a playwright. His three main characters are all tortured souls in their own right and each deals with the weight of their conscience in their own unique way, through comical and dramatic expression.

Now for the plot; two Irish, but London based hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson), are sent off to Bruges (“It’s in Belgium”) after a job goes wrong, to wait for a call from their cockney boss (Ralph Fiennes). The trouble is this call could be a fortnight in coming and so the two must remain in Bruges, despite the fact it’s “a shit-hole”. In fact it is only the younger of the two, Ray (Farrell) who believes this, being the cynical and restless young man he is, while the older Ken (Gleeson) becomes rather content.

The real conflict and complexities of character become evident once they receive ‘the call’ and the boss himself, Harry (Fiennes), arrives in town. However, I won’t go into it, as this will spoil the film.

One interesting theme though which is constant throughout is that of religion, or more specifically judgment, redemption and the likening of Bruges to a somewhat state of purgatory. The setting therefore of Bruges is nicely relevant with its medieval churches, towers and paintings always foreboding towards the inevitable.

Overall, In Bruges is an impressive film, with a thought provoking script and wonderfully flawed characters. The acting is also very good; particularly memorable is Ralph Fiennes’ comical turn as the principled but psychotic mob boss Harry.  However, Gleeson is somewhat the anchoring of the film, giving a touching performance as the tortured but wisened aging hitman Ken. Farrell, being the central character, is very charming and plays Ray with a child-like naivety, showing off great comic timing in a cynical role which suits him perfectly.

So think maybe Lock, Stock combined with something by Edgar Wright, with a little more cynical dark humour and drama, and a few borrowed elements from Harold Pinter’s play The Dumb Waiter,then you’ll have a somewhat clearer picture of what to expect from In Bruges.