“In Bruges” is the story of two hit men forced to lay low in Bruges after a botched job. Their orders are to enjoy the scenery and do some sightseeing while awaiting further instructions from their employer. Ray (Colin Farrell) is suffering from extreme guilt as a result of the last job and is less than impressed with their surroundings while Ken (Brendan Gleeson) takes a real interest in being a tourist.
While in Bruges, the two men encounter a variety of characters and locations including an attractive young criminal/film production assistant named Chloë (Clémence Poésy), and an actor named Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), who prefers to be called a dwarf instead of a midget and is a bit racist when he’s on drugs. When Ken’s ordered to take out Ray – who’s suicidal anyway – he finds that he’s unable to bring himself to kill his friend. This leads to their employer having to come to Bruges himself and deal with the matter.
The majority of the film is dominated by banter between the characters and it comes as no surprise that Martin McDonagh (the writer and director) has had a career as a playwright. Luckily, the dialogue is fiercely witty and sharp; with a use of harsh language that almost matches the graphic display of violence. The two hit men trade humorous barbs and even delve into deeper topics about life, death, and the possibility of redemption.
The dialogue only becomes more outrageous when their employer Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) appears and engages in conversation with literally anyone. With his unwavering cockney accent, Ralph Fiennes steals all of his scenes (even those in which he’s simply a disembodied voice over the phone or in a letter) and is as twisted as he is hilarious. Ralph Fiennes seems to genuinely enjoy playing a psychopath and his enjoyment is contagious.
The fourth major character in this film would have to be the city of Bruges itself. Despite all the negative comments that Ray makes about it, it’s clear that the film was shot in a way to show off the locales. Every scene puts on display a different part of the city and the scenery itself tends to change drastically depending on the time of day or tone of the scene. The city can be haunting and dangerous, medieval fairy tale-esque, and, in the fog or snow, even dreamlike.
The two leads are both very good and besides displaying a knack for delivering the witty dialogue, they both have the range to give each of their characters a depth that makes them very sympathetic and easy to root for. Colin Farrell shows great comedic timing as well as a surprising amount of vulnerability as Ray. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, convincing as an aged hit man with a sense of morality.
This film marks the feature length directorial debut of Martin McDonagh (he made a short film in 2004 called “Six Shooter”) and he shows promise as a talented director. The shots of the city alone merit some attention to his skill. “In Bruges” is an entertaining film that deserves a strong recommendation; it’s funny, interesting, and memorable.