Culture Meets Crime In Bruges.

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…

Holidaying in Bruges.

   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.


5 thoughts on “Culture Meets Crime In Bruges.

  1. Farrells acting for the first half hour is very amateurish. Luckily he redeems himself by creating some fairly moving scenes later on in the movie.

    The bad language and slang used throughout the movie often seemed out of place and was used way too often to have any comedic value.

    One of the funniest moments in the movie is Harrys exchange with the ticket agent. Gleesom walking away said it all.

    The movie is a breath of fresh air. However, it does not know what it is..comedy, drama, action movie? This can also be seen (or heard) from the soundtrack. An Irish rebel song followed by action music???

  2. Re: bad language being used to often: yes that’s definetely the problem with a lot of Irish comedy these days including the performances of stand up comedians. They have come to rely on swearing as a way of making everything funny and it just doesn’t work.
    The Irish rebel song was a bit patriotic but strangely enough I didn’t mind it; maybe that’s because I saw the movie on St. Patrick’s Day..! The movie is a bit of a mixed bag but that also saved it from being a weak movie: if it had been just comedy it would have failed terribly. I think McDonagh did a good job in the end of incorporating a number of genres.

  3. First let me say that I am a huge fan of this film. I only gave it 4 stars out of 5 when I saw it, but the more I think of it the more I like it. It is extremely clever and well executed.

    I agree that this would have been a bit of a flop just as a straight comedy. I was expecting something along the lines of I Went Down. But I should have had more faith in McDonagh, he is very witty. Some of the script was really sharp, and I love the way it was all interlinked, and how something that is mentioned in passing at one point in the film is resurrected again later (e.g., the bottle being a lethal weapon). Best of all was the clever comic irony that you very rarely see – Brendan Gleeson holding a gun to the guy’s head and stopping him from committing suicide, interlinked with the very end. I don’t want to write too much about the final scene here because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it was perfect.

    I don’t remember any Irish Rebel song in it, are you talking about “On Raglan Road”? This is a Patrick Kavanagh poem, and while it might have some political undertones, I would never call it a rebel song, or patriotic. It is about love, loss, regret, mortality – what it is to be a human. The “fallen angel” theme is very apt to the scene during which it was played in In Bruges. Bruges is Purgatory after all, and Brendan Gleeson in particularly is seeking redemption for his sins, he goes up to the top of the tower, it shows the angel, and he sacrifices himself – the imagery is very close to the fallen angel shedding its wings, and does great justice to Brendan Gleeson’s character. He is a top notch actor, and his character in this movie was great.

    But despite all that, and despite the poignancy that the song might bring, I think “On Raglan Road” was intended as a very subtle in-joke. The audience laughed when Luke Kelly’s familiar voice rang out – I can’t pinpoint exactly what was funny about it, but it was a mild pisstake like the rest of the film, and it fit like a glove.

    I like Fiennes’ tribute to Don Logan from Sexy Beast too.

  4. James, I agree that Raglan Road (or Dawning of the Day) is not theoretically an Irish Rebel song (as it is not a protest song or a song praising lost soldiers etc.), it is available on many Irish Rebel Song albums.
    Also I would consider that any traditional Irish song can stir up a bit of patriotism, particularly while in foreign countries. To Gleesons character this song would be a reminder of home.

    I still feel though that it is out of placeto the rest of the movie.

  5. lol raglan road is NOT i repeat NOT in any way an irish rebel song. its an irish folk love song and one of the best songs ever sung by one of the best singers ever inb my opinion

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