Martin Mc Donagh’s new film is a tale well told.
Directed by: Martin McDonagh.
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy.
What’s it about? After a job goes terribly wrong, Irish hitmen Ken and Ray are transferred to Bruges for a while under boss Harry’s orders. What at first seems like a simple need to lie low however soon turns into a much more complicated situation…
It’s easy to see why Martin McDonagh, Oscar winner for ‘Six Shooter’ and director of ‘In Bruges’, would choose the quaint Flemish town as the setting for his debut feature. It must have been a joy to capture on film, with its red brick buildings and winding canals. But as quaint and pretty as it is, it’s certainly not the most exciting location, which might explain why Ray (Farrell), the younger and the more restless of our two partners in crime, is eager to get away from it all while the more mature Ken (Gleeson) is content to wander around the museums and relax with a Belgian beer, glad to escape the stress of London life. In this way, Bruges acts as more than just a pretty backdrop: it also aids our understanding of the two main characters due to the way they react to their new environment.
The first half hour of ‘In Bruges’ is dependant on comedy alone in order to hold our attention but unfortunately comedy is the weakest aspect of this film. Farrell is irritatingly reminiscent of Ardal O Hanlan’s Dougal in Father Ted with his baffled expressions and apparent stupidity. Like so much Irish comedy today, the film also makes use of swearing to gain laughs, which just never works for me even if there were chuckles coming from those around me in the cinema. Nevertheless, things rapidly improve when McDonagh’s script takes a step into the dark side with a shocking scene that reveals the reason why his two main characters have found themselves hiding out in a Belgian town. Suddenly we see Ray and Ken in a whole new light and from then on, snatches of comedy are mixed with genuine grief and sentimentality along with a realistic look at the brutalities of the criminal world.
Now Farrell’s idiotic young gun is seen as simply naïve; an uneasy criminal caught up in a situation that he cannot handle, while Gleeson’s civilized tourist turns out to be a hardened professional, torn between his deadly profession and the need to live up to his mother’s expectations (he is unable to pass by an elderly woman without holding a door open for her). And so, unintentionally, we become sympathetic to the characters in their plight as excuses are made for their crimes. Ken believes, or at least, has led himself to believe that he only takes out those that had it coming anyway, while Ray’s excitable need for adventure has turned into a need to escape the guilt and sorrow he feels after his first job turned horribly wrong. He is like a little boy lost, resorting at times to his natural self, chasing the first attractive girl he sees and poking fun at the tourists.
Eventually mob boss Harry (Fiennes) makes his entrance although his intimidating but comic personality has already been introduced via telephone conversations and letters between himself and Ken. With Harry’s presence in Bruges, it is as if a mini crime ring from London has begun to leak its way into the little town bit by bit. McDonagh’s script is clever in the way that he tosses us into the middle of a story without having to resort to too many flashbacks or explanations. We begin in Bruges and we finish up there, yet we have received a taste of life outside of the city also, thanks to some smart story-telling. Bruges is supposed to be a respite from the tenacities of criminal life for two people no longer able to cope with its demands, a fairytale haven, as described by Harry during one of his more reasonable exchanges. This image is emphasised with beautiful shots of drifting snow settling over the canals and cobbled streets. Yet even in this tranquil place, seemingly lost in time, bad things still happen and people suffer often unbeknownst to the many tourists walking around and admiring the architecture. Indeed, a scene showing Ray and Ken contemplating a climb up the tower in Bruges’ square leaves us with the uncanny realisation that you are never truly aware of who is around you in any public place, even in Bruges.