"After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through - "Get the fuck out of London, you dumb fucks. Get to Bruges." I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was."
Highly acclaimed Irish playwright Martin McDonagh accomplishes his feature film debut with the fantastic In Bruges. McDonagh served as both writer and director for this poignant, powerful morality narrative that merges equal quantities of humour and pathos. It seems McDonagh has a fondness for unrelenting violence and brutality, not to mention vibrantly-drawn characters that are predominantly contemptible.
In Bruges is an extraordinarily well-written story that never loses you during its slightly excessive running time. It's an ardently character-driven drama that draws palpable influence from the works of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. McDonagh himself even stated that Nicholas Roeg's 1973 film Don't Look Now was among his inspirations while penning his screenplay. On that note the film isn't for all tastes, in fact the violence is hard-hitting and blood is splashed around with sickening realism. There's also sufficient profanity to rival Martin Scorsese! Yet, despite the insalubrious nature of the film's proceedings there's a deep, expressionistic character study lying beneath.
McDonagh has always been talented in creating fascinating, multi-faceted stories in his successful Irish plays. Not to mention his dialogue is clever, engaging and frequently encompass very subtle humour. However, the playwright also displays competency as a director. His script was already extremely effective, but he provides additional assurance for a successful script-to-screen transformation by taking the helm. As a result of McDonagh's directing the film is suitably intense, compelling, entertaining yet also emotionally-affecting. The product is a terrific, provocative black comedy with surprising depth.
Ray: "Bruges is a shithole."
Ken: "Bruges is not a shithole."
Ray: "Bruges is a shithole."
Ken: "Ray, we only just got off the fucking train! Could we reserve judgement on Bruges until we've seen the fucking place?"
In Bruges is permeated with three indelible characters - four if you count the quaint Belgian medieval town in which the film takes place. McDonagh chooses for the film to track two Irish hit-men: Ken (Gleeson) and Ray (Farrell). Said Irishmen are ordered by gangster kingpin Harry (Fiennes) to leave London immediately when Ray's latest hit ends with devastating consequences. Harry sends the two to the well-preserved medieval town of Bruges until he provides further instructions. Haunted with recurring memories of what he did, Ray is profoundly unimpressed with the tourist attractions on offer and finds the town excruciatingly boring.
"If I grew up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges would impress me," Ray whinges. "But I didn't, so it doesn't."
Ken takes advantage of the trip as he spends his time revelling in the fascinating locations and serenity of the town. He acts as a father figure to Ray, trying to let him forget about the past by introducing him to the culture of Bruges. Their experiences progressively grow more surreal as they encounter weird locals, violent medieval art, and potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë (Poésy) who's working on the production of a European art film featuring racist American midget Jimmy (Prentice).
The real strengths of In Bruges are abundant. First of all, McDonagh allots the film's first half to developing his characters. Moreover, the engaging dialogue creates thoroughly entertaining viewing. It's McDonagh's gift for language that makes this film distinctively succulent. The writer-director even integrates a scene from the classic Orson Welles 1958 movie Touch of Evil to signify where he's at in terms of crime drama, essentially warning a viewer about the rug that's about to be pulled out from under them. In Bruges doesn't concern the narrative logic espoused by television...it's about injuries inflicted on the human heart. McDonagh also peppers the happenings with a child's death, graphic violence, drug use, politically incorrect witticism, irreverent remarks and adequate profanities to fill numerous Rob Zombie movies. The edginess nonetheless is never affected. In Bruges is an energetically character-fuelled tale that seldom misses its mark.
The skilful merging of genres should also be lauded. Throughout the entire duration there's definite dark comedy emerging. This comedy is very subtle, such as the witty dialogue or the amusing scenarios McDonagh has plonked his protagonists into. The second half speeds things up slightly, leaving the audience with a shocking conclusion. It is a testament to McDonagh's screenwriting that such plentiful cleverness never bogs the film into being a self-reflexive intellectual goof. Far from it, in fact. Anchored by Carter Burwell's magnificently melancholy score, In Bruges is an emotional and pungent drama/comedy complete with a lean script and lurid characters. The recurring motif of a fairy-tale is also extremely effective. A viewer should easily find themselves immersed in McDonagh's incredible world, and at the end you'll be so emotionally attached that you'll be left wanting more. This is quality filmmaking, and this standard is rarely seen in an ocean of contemporary tongue-tied Hollywood claptraps.
However it could have done with a trim. It's never boring and you'll be sad when it's over, but it still sometimes feels a tad excessive. Also, it's sometimes hard to suspend your disbelief. Like wondering when the cops will show up during a ballet of bullets, or when someone leaps off a bell tower. Any sirens? Not at all. What about someone driving a boat that doesn't appear to mind when a gun-shot is discharged and a passenger is lethally wounded? A train stopping for a police check in an isolated spot where there couldn't possibly be roads? Silly stuff for sure...still, you'll be entertained enough to overlook this.
At the centre of the film, the performances are absolutely remarkable. Colin Farrell redeems himself for all prior misdoings. After misfiring in such films as Alexander, it was a perfect move to team him up with McDonagh. Farrell's acting is so convincing that words fail me. He competently submerges himself into the character. The emotional edge Farrell brings to his portrayal at times (through either narration or character interaction) is amazing. In one particular scene, Farrell breaks down about the accidental bloodshed in London. Also, Farrell at times is like a child who's reluctant to sight-see. This amusing persona keeps us interested in the character.
Brendan Gleeson also puts forth a believable portrayal. We've never seen Gleeson of this standard before. He's a great father figure for Farrell's Ray as well. At times Gleeson will almost have you in tears.
Ralph Fiennes doesn't appear (we do hear his voice a few times, though) until the second half. He's a psychopathic marvel as the ferocious, relentless gangster kingpin with little affection for anyone ("You're an inanimate fucking object!" he screams at his wife at one stage).
The chemistry between the leads is sensational. Gleeson and Farrell are the unfortunate odd couple who periodically seem displeased to be in each other's company. Then there's Fiennes who appears to like the protagonists, but favours his principals even higher.
"There's a Christmas tree somewhere in London with a bunch of presents underneath it that'll never be opened. And I thought, if I survive all of this, I'd go to that house, apologize to the mother there, and accept whatever punishment she chose for me. Prison...death...didn't matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn't be in fuckin' Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realized, fuck man, maybe that's what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin' Bruges."
Overall, In Bruges is definitely among 2008's best movies. I doubt anyone expected Martin McDonagh's film debut to be this terrific. Similar to his renowned plays such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Pillowman, etc, there's interesting characters and dialogue that's effortless to enjoy. The dialogue feels naturalistic and is loaded with profanity. Without the profanity the film couldn't have made the profound impact it was aiming for. We swear at work, we swear in everyday speech...it reveals character. For the most part we're meant to abhor these men due to their disgusting actions.
All in all the film is haunting and hypnotic in addition to being extremely good entertainment. As it is, McDonagh - with the help of an outstanding cast - has fashioned a knockout movie that I highly recommend.