Martin McDonagh is best known as an award-winning playwright. Writer of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane and A Skull In Connemara, in 2004 he turned his hand to filmmaking with short Six Shooter. The short went on to win an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. This year McDonagh reteams with his lead man in Six Shooter, Brendan Gleeson, for the dark comedy, In Bruges.
Ray and Ken are two London-based Irish hitmen. After a hit ends in disaster, the two men ordered to go into hiding. Unfortunately for Ray, they’re sent to the town of Bruges in Belgium and told to wait for a telephone call from Harry, their boss. Ray’s a young, smart-arse and hates the picturesque beauty of the medieval town. Ken, on the other hand is a culture vulture and takes the town immediately. Ray wants to get pissed, Ken wants to see the sights. For some reason, they’re constantly at logger-heads. While on a night out, Ray meets Chloe, a Belgian girl working on the set of a film who sells drugs to the cast and crew. Ken finally gets the call from his psychotic boss, Harry. And from then on, things get a little heated.
The strength of In Bruges lies in McDonagh’s screenplay. The dialogue is smart and funny and the characters, while somewhat unrealistic for real life, fit the film perfectly. In Bruges is the kind of film that would fit into the whole Guy Ritchie kind of crime comedy genre. A genre that has truly become tired with the endless amount of films that try to emulate that style. But In Bruges avoids becoming just another of these films by avoiding trying to be ‘cool.’ It relies on the characters rather than the style of the film. There are a number of eccentric secondary characters that fill the cast, but none of these are too derivative.
The acting from the two principles is excellent. Brendan Gleeson has been in this kind of film before. In 1997’s incredibly underrated comedy, I Went Down, Gleeson showed his flair for comedy. Yet in that film he was the idiot, bumbling his way through proceedings, but getting the job done. Here, he’s a lot more subtle, and almost plays the straight man to Colin Farrell’s character, Ray. Yet he still has his moments for comedy, and seems right at home working with McDonagh.
Colin Farrell’s character, Ray is the main source of comedy for the film. He’s impetuous and quickly bores, and while he initially hates Bruges, once he gets out into the town and starts interacting with the denizens, the chances for comedy increase. But Ray is also the heart of the film. The disastrous hit that the men are on the run for is entirely his fault, even if circumstance does come into it. He’s incredibly affected by what he’s done, and it really shows. Farrell’s known more for his personality than his acting, but here, he shows he’s got talent.
Ralph Fiennes has a smaller, but pivotal role as Harry, the foul-mouthed, hot-tempered boss. Fiennes rarely does comedy. He’s known for his very dark roles, and it’s this that adds to his character. In a way, he seems like a comedy version of Ben Kingsley’s character Dom Logan from Sexy Beast. However, that’s not saying that Fiennes is just rehashing the role. He does make Harry his own.
As I’ve said, McDonagh’s script is the star of the film. But his skill at directing his actors also deserves mention. He gets the best out of his cast, and there’s never a dull moment. It's full of funny moments, but at the same time, it has a dark edge. A surprisingly dark edge. But any mention of that would lead me into spoiler territory, and that's not somewhere I want to go. It’s McDonagh’s first feature, and I hope it’s not his last. While his experience as a playwright comes through in the script, that’s not a complaint. Occasionally an Irish film does make an impact. Last year’s Once sure made it’s mark. While In Bruges is a totally different film, it deserves to be seen. Not flawless, but damned entertaining.