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By Jeremy Mathews | February 10, 2008

In the opening voice-over of “In Bruges,” Colin Farrell immediately puts the audience at ease. His character, Ray, admits that he didn’t even know where Bruges was until his boss told him to lay low there. Then, he punctuates the commentary with some helpful information: “It’s in Belgium.”

Writer/director Martin McDonagh has crafted his entire film with the same spirit as the introduction. The content may initially seem daunting, but the film presents it in an accessible, entertaining manner that dares you not to enjoy yourself. This is a film about people who have done bad things and deal with real psychological issues, but they’re also people who ramble, bicker and talk—and do so in the way peculiar to British criminals in movies.

Ray and his mentor Ken, played by the great Brendan Gleeson, flee from London to the medieval town after Ray’s debut job as a hitman ended in failure. The two were instructed to go sight-seeing, but Ray spends most of his time whining about the town, indulging his neuroses and pissing all over Ken’s attempts to take in the culture. His mood changes a bit, however, when he meets a cute local (Clémence Poésy) who works on the set of a pretentious Dutch film whose case includes a drug-loving dwarf (Jordan Prentice).

The dynamic between Gleeson and Farrell grows more and more fascinating as we learn more about what the characters have been through. As they exchange stylish dialogue, they reveal more about whether or not they indulge one another and why.

In a film full of great performances, Ralph Feinnes steals the show as Harry, the boss. Initially heard only over the telephone, Feinnes takes on an accent and a philosophy far from that of his typical role. He makes Harry presumptive and indignant, approachable and intimidating, a bundle of rage in a reasonable demeanor. It would be hard to find a better harbinger of doom.

During its conclusion, the film oscillates between big ideas and big set pieces. It’s only here that McDonagh falters a bit in his balancing act, using what could have been a considerable emotional payoff as a launch pad for a rather elaborate (but quite well done) chase scene. Even when the film goes off the rails, however, it’s still a fun ride.

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