Review by Jack Foley
HITMAN comedies are nothing new. Nor are British gangster films. But few aim at so many targets – most of them un-PC – and hit with such deadly accuracy.
In Bruges, the debut feature film from writer-director Martin McDonagh, is a screamingly funny, painfully complex and outrageously violent thriller that’s bang-on the money from start to finish. And that’s no mean feat when you consider some of the material.
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two Irish hitmen who have been sent to lie low in the fairytale Belgian town of Bruges after an horrifically botched job in London.
While awaiting instructions from their psychopathic boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Ken attempts to take in the culture while Ray struggles to come to terms with the repercussions of the last job. Then Ken receives a phone call that has even more violent consequences…
Without giving too much away, In Bruges probably qualifies as one of the most shocking films of the year. In the wrong hands, it could have been downright offensive.
But McDonagh’s skill as both writer and director is that he never oversteps the mark and no matter how outrageous some of the character’s actions and remarks become, you’ll find yourself somehow sympathising with them come the blood-soaked finale.
Farrell’s Ray, for example, is a naive Irishman struggling to atone for the sins of his immediate past. But without ever thinking before he speaks, he’s liable to offend everyone from midgets and whores to overweight American tourists without so much as the blink of an eye.
The actor deserves maximum credit for taking a potentially heinous character and transforming him into one of the most endearing anti-heroes of recent years. He delivers a tour-de-force that even contains the odd moment of self-parody (his line, “he swears a lot”, to a particularly expletive laden message from the boss is a brilliant piece of comic irony).
Similarly impressive is Gleeson’s older, wiser Ken, who becomes a father figure to Ray in light of what has happened to them. It’s as though saving his younger protégé might offer some form of redemption for his own past misdeeds, even though his survival chances become slimmer for doing so. Both actors share some electrifying chemistry.
As for Fiennes, I doubt audiences will ever view the actor in the same way again, his vile crime boss as good and as chilling as Ben Kingsley’s memorable turn in Sexy Beast – and yet somehow made human by a twisted sense of logic and morality.
The town of Bruges also shines – its fairytale architecture and distinct appearance becoming as much a character in the film as the people who populate it.
That said, In Bruges won’t be to everyone’s taste as it does require a high tolerance level for violence and anything non-PC. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a demographic that it doesn’t insult in some way!
But for those willing to give into its unique charms, it offers a fresh, funny and downright provocative take on a well-worked genre that never seeks to condone the views or actions that its characters take. Everyone pays in some way – and it’s a pleasure to pay out to see it.
Running time: 107mins
UK DVD Release: August 11, 2008
- Buy it (Amazon)
- Read the review
- Colin Farrell interview
- Brendan Gleeson interview
- Martin McDonagh interview