Possibly one of festival 08’s broader films, in terms of appeal, writer/director Martin McDonagh serves up a movie stock full of wit, action, black humour and clever dialogue. In Bruges takes its name from the movie’s central conceit which is that its two hit-man protagonists are sent away to Bruges (Belgium) to await further instructions after a botched up job. Several days in this mediaeval time-warp of a European town is enough time to turn around the lives of everyone the pair comes in contact with.
Colin Farrell (Miami Vice, S.W.A.T.) owns the role of Ray, the uncultured and less experienced hothead with his eyes out for skirt and laughs and who is definitely not interested in old buildings or anything to do with history. His ragged Irish charm helps him to pull off some of the least PC lines you’re like to hear in the festival which he delivers with obvious relish – including musings upon why midgets have a higher than average rate of suicide (?!) Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Mad-eye Moody from the Harry Potter films) provides the perfect foil as Ken the world weary hit-man imbued with his own sense of honour and an interest in the finer things – you know, history and the like. Possibly one of the most enlivened performances is given by a fresh feeling Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, The Constant Gardener) as their not-to-be-messed-about employer, Harry, who is both a psychotic low-born criminal and a risen-to-the-top family man. McDonagh fills out his cast with quality character actors including Ciarán Hinds (Persuasion, Amazing Grace) in a cameo as a catholic priest, Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire) as a beautiful young hustler Chloë, and Jérémie Renier – a Dardenne brothers regular (La Promesse, L’Enfant) – as Eirik, a whiney amateur criminal and Chloë’s ex-boyfriend.
In Bruges has enough funding and production polish to entice the general cinema going masses, and McDonagh has done a great job of keeping the dialogue open and accessible, whilst simultaneously weaving a damn clever story that doesn’t shy away from serious themes. Probably the last genre film I saw that tread the fine line between mainstream and independent/art house cinema this well was Shane Black’s 2005 mocking crime caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Where as that was an American feast of wit In Bruges has its feet planted firmly in UK/European tradition. Fienne’s Harry feels akin to a Guy Ritchie creation, and everything down to the casual use and choice of bad language is completely un-Hollywood in style. I found the dialogue less elaborate than the Tarantino comparisons this film has garnered but no less intelligent in its construction. Add to this the a truly surprising set of plot twists in a feature which the director manages to book end in as poetic a fashion as Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass in the recent remake of the Bourne trilogy and you’re on to a winner.
Be aware that the level of violence and bad language makes In Bruges well worthy of an 18 rating, but if you can cope with this you’ll be in for an entertaining ride which is as challenging as it is funny. Full of humour – both black and less subtle – the film almost feels a little slapstick in its opening half hour, but I was soon laughing aloud and sometimes in spite of myself. McDonagh could’ve chosen to dance around deeper thematic material but he faces the issues of guilt, honour and loyalty head on and frankly, without the film ever getting preachy or becoming self-conscious in tone. Like Pulp Fiction, Lock Stock, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before it In Bruges continues to prove that crime/action films don’t need to be brainless or devoid of meaning to be worth the ticket price.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: R16 – Violence, Offensive Language, Drug Use & Sex
Duration: 107 mins
Genre: Crime Thriller / Black comedy
Director: Martin McDonagh (2008)
Actors: Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, and Jérémie Renier.
Country: UK / Belgium