In Bruges, the first feature from writer/ director Martin McDonagh, is a gloriously funny, expletive laden gangster movie with a difference. It is a beautifully funny film, where violence and regret sit side-by-side with a kind of melancholia which is unusual in the genre. In rewatching there’s also a tenderness in the performances of the two leads which is closer to a father and son dynamic than the comic brotherly arguing personas usually ascribed to them. There is a fondness between them which is protective.
Following a botched assassination during which a child was accidentally killed, hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) and his mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges to lie low and wait for further orders from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). With nothing to do and bickering with alternating boredom and frustration the pair attempt to join in with the tourists teeming through the Belgian city and stay calm. Chancing upon a nightshoot of a film being made Ray becomes obsessed with a local drug dealer Chloë (Clémence Poésy) who is pretending to be a production runner so she can supply the crew. And they wait for the looming off screen presence of Harry to inevitably appear.
Spiky and filled with depressed rage and guilt, Farrell’s Ray is a surprisingly tender character despite his almost adolescent petulance, and Brendan Gleeson is tremendous as the hangdog Ken who is holding on to some sad stories from his past. Fiennes as Harry verges on the precipice of cartoon in much the same way Ben Kingsley did in Sexy Beast – a classical actor being given space to go large, but still manages to be menacingly threatening even when asking if a character is having a wee or a poo.
There is nothing desperately new in the story tropes of In Bruges, but it is the way in which a seemingly clichéd framework is subverted with wit, character, humour and more than a little tenderness, which makes it such an excellent film. The dialogue by McDonagh, although new to feature films, is full of the skilful use of language he employed to such acclaim on stage. There is a musicality to the words which has such a wonderful rhythm. And the tightness of the construction of the screenplay, despite its apparent freewheeling dreamlike moments, is astonishing. Every tiny set up has a pay off.
What is mostly surprising about In Bruges is that it works as both comedy and serious visceral gangster movie. It’s a delicate balancing act to be both shocking and hilarious in equal measure and McDonagh, on his first time helming a feature, does it with an assurance which is to be applauded.
If you haven’t seen In Bruges, you must.
The In Bruges – Limited Edition Blu-ray is out now and contains these special features and extras:
• Six Shooter: Martin McDonagh’s Oscar Winning Short Film in HD
• Shoot First, Sightsee Later: A New Interview With Director of Photography Eigil Bryld
• Finding the Rhythm: A New Interview With Editor Jon Gregory
• Finding Bruges: A New Interview With Production Designer Michael Carlin
• The Alcove Guy: A New Interview With Actor Eric Godon
• When in Bruges – interviews with cast and crew and on-set footage
• Strange Bruges – interviews with cast and crew and on-set footage
• Deleted Scenes
• Boat Trip Around Bruges
• Gag Reel
• Optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing
LIMITED EDTION CONTENTS
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Thomas Walker
• Faber and Faber screenplay with exclusive cover artwork by Thomas Walker
• 50 page soft cover book with new writing by Ian Christie, Dr Eamonn Jordan (author of From
Leenane to LA: The Theatre and Cinema of Martin McDonagh) and Bomb Magazine archive
interview with Martin McDonagh.