Don’t go in to watch In Bruges with the usual expectations for a film about hitmen — you won’t find the usual cold-blooded killers stalking heads of state or well-connected businessmen. No, based in the most well-preserved medieval city in Belgium, Bruges, it’s as quirky and surprising as you might expect from debut writer/director McDonagh who is famed for his Olivier and Tony award-winning plays. Eschewing typical story archs and using an introspective, character-driven approach, this tale of a guilt-ridden failed Irish hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) and his minder Ken (Brendan Gleeson) will have you chuckling away, especially when a cocaine-fuelled discussion of who the Vietnamese might side with in a fight between all the blacks and whites in the world takes centre stage.
Ray hates Bruges. Sent to the sleepy town by his superior Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide for two weeks after a hit goes wrong, he is bored by the ancient surroundings and finds no interest in the locals. Twitchy, and itching to get back to London, he moans as avid tourist Ken drags him around the cultural hotspots. But this all changes for the better when Ray stumbles upon the set of a film starring dwarf Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) and meets gorgeous drug-dealer Chloe (Clemence Posey), except a long awaited phone call from Harry to Ken brings orders that will ruin his fun.
In Bruges grows richer when you’ve had time to mull it over.
The Farrell/Gleeson Irish double act at the heart of In Bruges is endearing to the point you forget what horrible deeds they do. McDonagh uses the mismatched pairing to play up their inabilities to be around each other without arguing, but their squabbles also bring insights into what is really on their minds. Much like a well-written play, the revelations enable you to warm to them and understand their feelings rather than make for scenes to pass the time until Harry’s call. Indeed, even Ray’s obsession with dwarves to the point of harassing the ketamine-fuelled Jimmy evolves from unsettling to laugh-out-loud funny. When the trio get involved in a drink, drugs and Dutch prostitutes session culminating in a discussion about all the black people in the world fighting all the white, you realise In Bruges finds humour in the most unlikely of places. Ray and Ken’s bumbling around Bruges eventually unlocks its dark side to make way for some unflinching black comedy as their sight-seeing trip descends into a bloody shootout.
But that doesn’t happen until McDonagh has carefully woven the events together, and makes every character who has featured play a crucial part. The clever scripting is almost undone when Harry makes the cross-over from simply a phone voice to having an active part in these events, as Fiennes attempts to steal the show late on. However, McDonagh saves himself from ruining the carefully-constructed relations when subtle twists. In Bruges defies the limited expectations you might have of modern hitman movies or gangster flicks to provide a engaging dialogue and theatre-esque plotting to a usually pea-brained genre. There probably will be some confusion as to where McDoangh is taking you at the time, yet that is all part of the fun. In Bruges grows richer when you’ve had time to mull it over.