After a job gone wrong, hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to the historic Belgian storybook city of Bruges by their London crime boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). It is just before Christmas and they have been instructed to lie low for a couple of weeks and wait for Harry’s call to deliver his orders for the next hit. For Ray, who is still haunted by the disaster on the last job, playing tourist in the picturesque town with its cobbled streets and canals is a drag, but Ken, who loves the art galleries and churches, is rather enjoying it. Nothing goes as planned, however, as Ray and Ken encounter locals and tourists, including a dwarf American actor (Jordan Prentice) and lovely Chloë (Clémence Poésy) who is hiding some secrets of her own. When Harry finally calls with the identity of the next target, Ray and Ken’s interlude in Bruges takes a dramatic, totally unexpected turn.
Review by Louise Keller:
'If I had grown up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, and it doesn't,' says Colin Farrell's hit man Ray on arrival in the picturesque Belgian medieval town with his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson). He has no idea where it is on the map, let alone how to pronounce it (it's 'broozh'), which is the starting point for acclaimed playwright and first time director Martin McDonagh, whose brilliantly sharp screenplay oozes pathos, incongruity and comedy of the blackest kind. In short, this buddy movie cum crime drama, cum fish-out-of-water comedy is hilarious yet tragic, unpredictable yet conventional, but always involving and surprisingly moving.
Ray and Ken make an unlikely team as they agree to a balance of culture and fun, while lying low by necessity in this World Heritage Venice of the North with its mirror-like canals, swans, cobbled lanes and gothic architecture. Fun is what Farrell's Ray is after - be it a pint of beer at the pub or in the company of a pretty girl like Chloë (Clémence Poésy) who may or may not be who she says. For Ken, the culture of Bruges is a welcome haven in which he can find solace for his past sins. Both Farrell and Gleeson give flawless performances and Farrell in particular, surprises us by the depth of his characterisation. Ralph Fiennes' unpleasant crime boss Harry is outright terrifying. Watching him explode is like watching a hernia erupting. We first meet him through an explicit phone message curtly left with the hotel owner, before hearing his shrill Cockney accent over the phone. By the time we meet him in the flesh, we have no sympathy for him whatsoever; he seems on a different plane to Ray and Ken, who clearly display signs of remorse, feelings of guilt and wish for redemption.
Like the film, the City of Bruges itself is filled with surprises and contrasts. Beyond the ancient clock tower, museums and town square, there's a racist dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice) with a cocaine fix shooting a movie; obliging black and white prostitutes from Amsterdam; a Canadian tourist with an anti-smoking philosophy and a violent temper; an art dealer who supplies guns on the side; an irate boyfriend with a bad sense of stupidity and timing. It is in the bleak heart of winter's chill that these colourful characters come together. Nothing is overdone, especially the comedy which balances the pathos and violence perfectly. Carter Burwell's music too, is exceptional, finding the range of colours to complement McDonagh's brilliant vision.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
London born Irish writer/ director Martin McDonagh likes to state clearly where the action of his works take place; five of his six award winning stage plays were titled The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaon, The Lonesome West, A Skull in Connemara and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. With his debut feature film, he is succinct: In Bruges. This isn't some half baked title in the absence of a better one; it is entirely in the service of the story, which not only takes place in Bruges, but is driven by it through one of the characters ... but I won't spoil the revelation.
Indeed, I'll try to avoid spoiling any of the key revelations, elements that make the film the more rewarding and entertaining by direct discovery. The story is a well constructed gangster thriller with audacious elements, hung on characters who are self contradictory and morally selective. This serves as the black comic edge for McDonagh's frame, in which the characters are held captive.
Bruges, first denigrated as a shithole (by Ray) then celebrated as a fabulous Medieval museum of city rich in culture and artistic treasures, canals and historic architecture (by Ken), plays a key role in the plot, a place one must see - like Naples - before dying. The city is as much a star as Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (and in a smaller but key role, Ralph Fiennes), all of whom deliver gripping characterisations. Farrell is well cast as the uncouth young assassin, who has a demon to exorcise, and Gleeson is great as the quietly gay killer with a love of culture and history. Fiennes is in terrific form as a hard man who maintains his set of principles at any price.
Superbly photographed and scored, the film maintains its offbeat tone throughout, with rich (and earthy) dialogue and treats the audience with enough respect never to insult our intelligence. Funny and thrilling, you'll find redemption In Bruges - it's worth the trip.
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IN BRUGES (MA)
CAST: Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Eric Godon, Zeljko Ivanek, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier
PRODUCER: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
SCRIPT: Martin McDonagh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eigil Bryld
EDITOR: Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 4, 2008