- Rated R
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All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
artin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is an interesting little film. It’s one part action-comedy, one-part Shakespearean tragedy, and no matter how fucked up that may sound, it completely works. Arranged like an off-Broadway production of “Sexy Beast,” the film lives and dies by McDonagh’s words (no matter how explicit) and star Colin Farrell’s ability to make you sympathize with a bigoted hitman. Amazingly, they both succeed in their respective tasks, and in doing so, deliver one of the most original films in years.
Farrell stars as Ray, a hitman whose latest job hasn't gone as planned. Forced to hide out with his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) until everything blows over, the unlikely duo's boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), sends them to his favorite vacation spot – the quiet town of Bruges – where they're ordered to lay low until they receive further instructions. Ken plans to make the most of their detour by playing the dutiful tourist, but Ray is miserable, claiming that “if [he'd] grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress [him], but [he] didn't, so it doesn't.” Unfortunately, Ray doesn’t know the real reason why he’s been brought to the Belgian city, and when Ken refuses to whack him for botching the job, Harry arrives in town to clean up the mess himself.
Not since “Pulp Fiction” has there been a hitman duo as dynamic as Ray and Ken. Polar opposites of the other, they don’t just bicker about the little things – they also get into deep conversations about life, death and everything in between. As such, much of the movie depends on the relationship between its two stars, and though it seems like Farrell and Gleeson’s comic rapport is going to wear thin fast, the duo manages to keep the laughs rolling throughout the entire film. Farrell, who hasn’t made a good movie in years, delivers his best performance yet (and subsequently reminding us all why he belongs on the A-list), while Gleeson, who’s made a career out of playing second fiddle, offers excellent support as the straight man.
“In Bruges” might be Farrell’s movie, but Ralph Fiennes comes incredibly close to stealing the whole thing out from under his feet. Though he doesn’t physically appear until the film’s final act, Fiennes makes his presence known in other ways (including an expletive-laced telegram and the inevitable phone call). When he finally does appear, it’s as if the second coming of Ben Kingsley’s infamous Don Logan character has arrived. Equally foul-mouthed and short-tempered, some might call shenanigans on McDonagh’s obvious replication of such a unique personality, but others will likely respond the same way I did – the more the merrier.
Of course, without McDonagh’s razor-sharp script to shepherd the three actors along, “In Bruges” would have been a very different movie. For starters, the two hitmen would have been pals, the 11th-hour shootout would have come much earlier (or several more would have been added), and the film’s finale wouldn’t be quite as grim. Thankfully, “In Bruges” is nothing like that, and though the film’s 107-minute runtime is too long (particularly in the second act), McDonagh’s words more than make up for it. If only he’d been as flawless behind the camera as he was with the pen, or “In Bruges” would have easily been one of the best of the year.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Lack of a commentary track aside, the single-disc release of “In Bruges” shuffles together a decent collection of bonus material that includes a making-of featurette (“When In Bruges”) and a history lesson on the European town (“A Boat Trip Around Bruges”). There’s also plenty to enjoy in the 18 minutes worth of deleted scenes, and it’s a shame that some of them had to be cut. Rounding out the DVD is a six-minute gag reel that, unfortunately, isn’t as funny as the movie itself, as well as a short compilation of the film’s many expletives (“Fucking Bruges”).