In honour of the film In Bruges celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and the fact that the directors latest film Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri has just been released in the UK, it is time to take a look back at Martin McDonagh’s first feature.
In Bruges tells the story of two hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who after a botched job, are told by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in Bruges until the heat is off. But despite Ray’s initial insistence that waiting around in Bruges will be boring, he soon turns out to be very, very wrong.
Despite the seemingly typical hitmen on the run premise, In Bruges does a lot to differentiate itself from the norm. The resulting film is a bizarre mash-up of black comedy, romance, gangster thriller and drama that would normally feel overstuffed or underdeveloped but in McDonagh’s hands turns into something truly surprising. The writing is perhaps the most praised aspect of the film as it invests every one of its characters with a deal of depth and complexity. Almost every character has a moment to shine and has something about them that you can relate to, even the villain surprisingly. And the script manages to pack in some quite surprising twists and turns along the way while also managing to be laugh out loud funny and quite affecting at the same time, without feeling like it is betraying the tone of the film.
But while the script is the most praised aspect of the film a lot of appreciation must also go to the actors, who manage to make these oddball characters feel real and relatable. Farrell and Gleeson are a great double act who complement each other really well on screen when it comes to the humour, but both also invest their characters with an undercurrent of melancholy which when it comes to the forefront, hits in a big way. Ralph Fiennes is also very fun in his turn as the intimidating hitman boss with pretensions of being an honourable Hollywood gangster, but he also manages to make the character feel real mostly by playing him as someone exaggerating for effect rather than a cartoon. All the other bit players showcase a great range of talents. If I had to pick one word to describe the performances it would be, human. Despite them being quite over the top, all of these characters have wants, desires, pasts and most of all flaws. The actors have all homed in on this fact and bring it across in a natural way without it seeming overbearing.
The cinematography is also a treat. While not necessarily being flashy and in your face, the camerawork, lighting and use of focus help to make the city of Bruges feel truly otherworldly, almost like something out of a romantic fairy tale, which makes it even more effective when it is juxtaposed against all the violence and swearing.
The film, of course, does have its flaws. Firstly, the beginning can seem fairly dull on your first watch. It does serve the purpose of introducing us to the characters and their viewpoints of Bruges, but it does still feel like a drag until you are invested in the characters.
Secondly, while many of the characters are quite compelling to watch the lead female character, Chloe, does feel rather inconsequential to the proceedings. Which is not the fault of actress Clémence Poésy, who does the best job she can, more the fault falls on the writing which seemingly just places her as a reward for Farrell’s story rather than a character in her own right.
Finally there is a moment in the last act, (which I will not spoil, you will know it when you see it) which although funny, does require the viewer to stretch their disbelief perhaps a bit too far and could take the audience out of the film for a moment, which is a shame because until that point the film had done a really good job of immersing us in the world of the characters.
There are also things that viewers should bear in mind before they decide to watch the film as it is not for everyone. If you do not like a heavy amount of swearing, very politically incorrect humour, themes of suicide or grisly murder then you might want to give this one a miss.
Having said that, if you can stomach the above elements and have not seen it already then be sure to give In Bruges a watch. It is one of the best British dark comedies of the 2000’s. With very sharp dialogue, clever characterisation a plot that consistently surprises and moving performances that will have you laughing one minute and pulling on your heart-strings in the next. It is not for everyone and has some flaws that may keep it from being perfect, but it does so many things refreshingly right that it’s hard to care.