An endlessly quotable, blisteringly funny pitch-black comedy with some heavy dramatic overtones, Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is one of those rare debut masterpieces that instantly identifies its creator as a major cinematic force.
Film is so different in tone and style than what we are used to or might expect that some viewers may feel ostracized; others will be swept away by a genre-defying film that unfolds naturally, not by the pen of a writer, but by the actions of its characters.
Only occasionally does a directorial debut come across that has this kind of assured weight and resonance; while watching it I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, or Mamet’s House of Games. Director McDonagh, an acclaimed playwright (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and Oscar-winner for his 2004 short Six Shooter, has now aligned himself with the greats.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as Irish hitmen Ray and Ken, who are sent to Bruges (it’s in Belgium) after a successful hit on a priest leaves some unfortunate collateral damage.
Bruges is a storybook, well-preserved medieval gothic village (a “fuckin’ fairy tale”, in the words of the characters) where Ray agonizes and Ken sightsees while waiting for a phone call from boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with their next instructions.
While there, they meet a bevy of colorful supporting characters, most notably including a racist American midget and beautiful local girl Chloë, a potential love interest for Ray.
The city of Bruges, as one might expect from the title, is also a major character here; the film not only provides a satirical travelogue of the city, but the landscape and historical landmarks often dictate the course of events.
Cast is wonderful: Farrell has never been better, more at home here (naturally) inhabiting a Dublin gangster than he’s been as Hollywood leads. Gleeson is solid as always; Fiennes is a surprise as the violently enigmatic, malevolent Harry, who couldn’t be more different to the actor’s usual quiet, introspective characters.
Original score by Carter Burwell is extraordinary, though it decidedly underlines the drama in the film rather than the comedy.
And while I call this a comedy (and indeed, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years) it’s a dark, dark experience that knows the world of its characters and isn’t afraid to show ultra-violence in every bloody detail.
The humor in the film comes from McDonagh’s wonderful, rich, irreverent dialogue and the ironic situations that are sometimes derived from it; otherwise, this is heavy stuff that only the more adventurous viewers may appreciate.