Focus Features presents In Bruges. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R (for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, and some drug use).
Certain institutions and destinations are the home of something. Burger King is the “Home of the Whopper.” Notre Dame is the home of the Fighting Irish. Belgium is the home of waffles. It is in Belgium – actually, Bruges, Belgium – where our story takes place. The town is quaint and inconspicuous; the perfect setting for a pair of hit-men to lay low after an assignment goes wrong. The two hired guns are quite different. Ray (Colin Farrell) is the rabble-rouser, the kind of guy who likes to run his mouth and instigate trouble. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is the older, and thusly wiser, hit-man. While his young friend likes to make wiseass remarks about the scenery and how there’s nothing to do in Bruges, Ken soaks in the culture as he purchases a guidebook and explores the township.
If anything, this debut by writer/director Martin McDonagh is a nice two-hour promo for the Belgium town. But the setting is just a front: In Bruges is in fact a dark and wickedly funny comedy that ultimately surprised me. Going in I had hoped this film would have discourse similar to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the scenes with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in the diner. A writer and director of theatrical plays, McDonagh is able to make his plot flourish with dialogue. Through character interaction moods change. We see Ray in a different light. He’s rude and has a sailor’s mouth about him, but once we learn why the two men are in Bruges and what he’s done, we don’t mind his using words that start with the letter F.
Brendan Gleeson, who I will always associate with the less-than-stellar (but I still enjoyed) Lake Placid, plays Ken as a man who’s best days are far behind him. His gait and the lines in his brow, this is a man who’s seen and committed acts of unimaginable violence. Both Ken and Ray make for strange travel companions. Ray is the unwilling roommate; he successfully executed his first assignment, a priest inside a Dublin confessional, but in doing so he also killed a small boy. There’s sort of an unwritten rule when it comes to professional killing: avoid hitting children in the process.
In some ways the town of Bruges is that last stop before purgatory. It’s like Hell’s waiting room. Plain and unobtrusive, with cobblestone streets and medieval structures, the town is an attraction enjoyed by few. If it was enjoyed by many it would be just like any other tourist attraction. Maybe that’s why Ken and Ray are sent there by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Harry hasn’t been there in close to a decade but has fond recollections – the town is almost like a fairytale land. Until he materializes, all we know of him is through phone conversations. Like Ray, Harry is someone who likes to swear a lot. He has a short temper and doesn’t like it when someone insults his kids.
Bruges is the perfect backdrop to a story about down and out hit-men. The city is a plot device. Ray is someone who is not impressed by sculptures or paintings. But when he comes across a film production he’s excited, thrilled to see live-action artistry at work. There he meets two intriguing characters. Ray first spots a stunning blond named Chloe (Clemence Poesy). Soon after he sees Jimmy (Jordan prentice), a dwarf who is part of the film’s dream sequence. Sticking his foot in his mouth early, Ray is able to alienate the both of them. Eventually, though, matters are cleared with the help of booze, coke, and prostitutes.
Moving between the three acts McDonagh is able to progress the story at an interesting pace. It is a comedy, but there are moments of sadness and reflection, of goofy humor and deadpan exchanges between characters. And what exchanges; Colin Farrell tells the best jokes and one-liners. This may just be his best performance in a long while. Gleeson and Fiennes are great as well, but this is definitely in which Farrell and his Irish brogue outshine all others.
Martin McDonagh, for his first film at least, shows promise as a new talent. In Bruges is not a polished thriller-comedy, but with certain limitations he is able to present us a film of violence and bloodshed and comedy to boot. A deadly combination indeed.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):