Movies You Might Have Missed: In Bruges

TitleIn Bruges
Release Date: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ciaran Hinds
Language: English
Country: UK

Put the kids to bed before you watch this one. Martin McDonagh tends to make darkly comic films. (His brother does much the same thing, but with a different balance between the darkness and comedy.) This, his first full-length film, is no exception. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are both In Bruges as the movie begins. They’re not sure why, exactly, and neither are we. Someone’s been killed, and now they’re in Bruges.

Over the first reel we discover slowly that they’re crooks and have been sent, and are waiting for instructions. Farrell is unhappy; both about being in Bruges, which he finds incredibly boring and about a job that went wrong. Turns out, they’re not just crooks, but hitmen, Gleeson the veteran mentoring the younger Farrell. By an unfortunate mischance, on the very first job Farrell undertakes alone he accidentally kills a child while hitting his target.

The movie unfolds in surprising directions as meditations on sin, justice, forgiveness, and redemption through what are perhaps the most ill-suited characters to take this on. It’s informed by a somewhat lapsed-Catholic sensibility on these topics, but it’s interesting for all that. The expectations of a hyper-violent hitman flick are subverted by Farrell’s intense remorse, Gleeson’s compassion for him in tension with duty to his boss and friend (played here ably by Ralph Fiennes) and the boss’s expectations arising from his understanding of the criminal code of ethics.

Overlaid throughout are frequent moments of farce as the rest of the world carries on with its concerns, heedless of their situation. (Farrell and Gleason are blankly uncomprehending why the overweight Americans take offense at being warned away from a landmark which has no elevator. “Well, you lot ain’t going up there…I mean, it’s all winding stairs. I’m not being funny.”) The dark comedy is spun out of these mundane and prosaic interruptions.

Though these main characters are heavy hitting, big name actors, the movie is a clear example of how a strong script and good performances can make for a good movie even without a large budget. If this is a movie you like, you’ll like his other movies too.

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