In Bruges - 2008
Director(s): Martin McDonagh
Writer(s): Martin McDonagh
Cinematography by: Eigil Bryld
Editor(s): Jon Gregory
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Elizabeth Berrington and Zeljko Ivanek
Synopsis: Guilt-stricken after a job gone wrong, hitman Ray and his partner await orders from their ruthless boss in Bruges, Belgium, the last place in the world Ray wants to be (IMDB).
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the directorial debut of Martin McDonagh, who up to this point had only been known as a successful theater director. He is better known now for his Academy Award nominated film 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri. McDonagh came up with the concept of In Bruges while on vacation, alone, in Bruges. He found himself conflicted as part of him loved the culture, the architecture and the museums, but he was also bored out of his mind since you couldn’t really go drinking and partying. This created Colin Farrell’s character, hating Bruges, and Brendan Gleeson’s character trying to make the best out of his vacation, hitting the top tourist parts.
The problem was coming up with a believable reason as to why they would be in Bruges, but more importantly a reason that would force them to stay there. Ray, played by Colin Farrell, is a new hitman who, on his first hit, had something go horribly wrong. His boss Harry, played perfectly by Ralph Fiennes, sends him along with his partner Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, to lay low in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places he has ever visited. What I love about the script is how they slowly reveal key details of the hitman, their boss and what went wrong during the hit. We start to develop a connection to both of our main protagonist far before we truly have the full picture, so when the third act comes along we are fully invested in these extremely flawed individuals.
Quick note: the use of the score also reflects the boredom and repetitive nature of their stay. It’s usually the same piano score used whenever they showcase the architecture and the culture of their location.
This movie lives eternally in the grey area, an area McDonagh loves to set his movies in. The characters despite being in the profession of killing people, are always questioning their own morality. The best conduit of this dilemma is Brendan Gleeson, Ken, he has been a hitman for a long time and has more than ten kills under his belt. But he is shown to be a good well-meaning man. Trying his best to console and help Ray deal with the emotional toll his first hit has brought down on him. He visits the churches and is in awe of the church that has the blood of Christ, showing he is a God-fearing man. He questions if being a good man outside of his work is enough for him to enter Heaven. The best way to look at this movie is that our characters are in Purgatory awaiting their trial, to see if they are going to Heaven or Hell.
I love dark comedies and this movie is definitely in my top ten of that genre, thanks to McDonagh’s way of constructing believable yet slightly exaggerated conversations. He showcases a mastery of creating intriguing, compelling and right out hilarious conversations. My favorite conversations are any that involve Harry. He has an overly aggressive tone and is yelling ten curse words per second with a hilarious accent. Yet he is polite and genuinely worried about your time in Bruges, a place he considers magical, like a f**king fairy tale. This contrast is what makes him one of the best aspects of the movie. In the third act, he has a standoff with Colin Farrell wherein they negotiate the terms in how they are going to shoot at each other while avoiding hurting the hotel owner. It’s honestly flat out hilarious.
Quick note: the second-best conversation is when Harry runs into Ken and they are going over the fate of Ray. They are just lobbing verbal jabs at each other back and forth and you as an audience member are both laughing and building up with tension. Just leave his kids out of it.
In the past, I found myself in conversations with fellow movie lovers as to why I considered Colin Farrell one of the best working actors of our time. I would always point them to his performance in this movie. He is condescending and demeaning towards people around him, highlighted in his interaction between him and American he calls “elephants”, yet you find yourself feeling sorry for him and rooting for him to come out on top. You can see the weight of his situation behind his eyes as the sight of his deed is permanently plastered in his mind’s eye. He breaks a couple of times in front of Gleeson and its truly heartbreaking despite this man being a certified murderer. Just a testament of how good of a performer Ferrell is. The rest of the cast is wonderful, Gleeson is complex and compelling and as I said a couple of times already Ralph Fiennes is just hilarious.
In Bruges is a creative, funny and compelling story. I can’t really compare this movie to anything else I have seen before. Dark comedy wrapped in a great character study of people grasping at this sense of morality in life. Despite them being shown to be, in the broadest of sense “bad” guys, they have their own moral compasses and try to do what they feel is the right thing. You as an audience member are forced to live in the grey area and try to marry your morals to the characters finding a common ground with all of them. This movie is eternally rewatchable, original and unique making it an easy entry into my classification of a modern classic. Colin Farrell’s performance is why I love movies.
In Bruges is currently available on VOD. You don’t need to grow up on a farm to enjoy it.
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