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In Bruges (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

In Bruges

IN BRUGES (2008)

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy, Jeremie Renier, Thekla Reute, Jordan Prentice, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon, Mark Donovan, Rudy Blomme, Theo Stevenson, Elizabeth Berrington and Cieran Hinds.

Screenplay by Martin McDonagh.

Directed by Martin McDonagh.

Distributed by Focus Features.  107 minutes.  Rated R.

Beauty and ugliness, grandeur and seediness, equanimity and eccentricity, spirituality and heathenism, boredom and shockingly sudden violence, drugs, whores and dwarves all make for a spirited mix on the cobbled old-world streets of In Bruges.

Written and directed by renegade playwright Martin McDonagh, the film is a feast for the ear with some of the finest quirky dialogue to reach the screen in recent years. McDonagh’s skill as an adventure film director is a little bit more suspect, however the violence, as shocking and in-your-face as it sometimes gets, is really secondary in this story of friendship, love, honor and redemption.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, two Irish hitmen who are set up to work together for the first time on a botched hit in London. Their shadowy underworld boss orders them to lay low in the medieval Belgian town in the title (pronounced Broahz) and await further instructions.

Ken is the old pro, a middle-aged lifer who has enough blood on his hands that he is actually happy for the break.  He appreciates the beauty of the surroundings and the opportunity to just get lost as a tourist.

Ray, on the other hand is a bit of a loose cannon; antagonistic, miserable, but undeniably charming. He also is completely distraught that his first murder had a tragic ending, but not so distraught that he doesn’t spend his whole trip angling for the pub, bitching about the town, making deliciously un-PC statements about American tourists and midgets and trying to bed every attractive woman he crosses.

They must stay in the town but have no idea what they are there for.  The call they are expecting from the boss never seems to come.

However, this isn’t Tarantino adapting Waiting for Godot.

While McDonagh points out Scorcese and Tarantino as inspirations as a filmmaker – with In Bruges, McDonagh’s filmmaking style is most reminiscent of the film work of fellow former-revered-playwright-turned-movie-auteur David Mamet – realistically elegant and complex street language periodically punctuated by shocking violence.  For better or worse, critics have always used Mamet as a touchstone for McDonagh’s stage work as well.  If you are going to be consistently compared to someone, David Mamet is a pretty damned good place to start.

However, McDonagh also brings a distinctively European flavor and surreal charm to the mix and In Bruges is a flawed-but-rewarding film debut.

And what can I say? The town – which has only been captured on film once before in a 50s Audrey Hepburn project called The Nun’s Story – truly is stunning. Even if this film weren’t so good – and it is – it would be worth seeing just to experience a taste of Bruges.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 29, 2008.


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