‘Bruges is the best preserved medieval town in Belgium,’ reads Brendan Gleeson’s impressed Ken. ‘It’s a fucking shithole!’ fires back his new, younger room-sharer and fellow hitman-on-the-run Ray (Colin Farrell). Thus begins the running joke of ex-theatre wunderkind Martin McDonagh’s clever, savvy and enjoyable revamp of the odd-couple/gangster caper, a genre picture confident its own audience-pleasing verbal sparrings, joke-enabling moral sophistry and tongue-in-cheek classical and cinematic borrowings – from Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Last Judgement’ to Nic Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ and every belfry, picaresque canal and famous seventeenth-century building in the ‘Venice of the North’.
Its mock-artistic thriller trappings notwithstanding, ‘In Bruges’ is basically a funny, tragicomic two-hander, with the casting of Farrell alongside Gleeson enabling a pleasing Irish inflection: culture-vulture old pro Ken and philistine loose cannon Ray are Dublin-accented, London-Irishmen with shared guilty pasts awaiting fate in the person of psychopathic boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes as an enjoyable, mumbling Mamet-ian figure with a suicidal sense of honour).
McDonagh adeptly milks the situation comedy of the mismatched pair with the clock running down – as in Edouard Molinaro’s film ‘A Pain in the Arse’ – lacing his drama with cheeky racist-dwarf jokes and dextrous set-pieces (notably an amusing face-to-face encounter out of Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’). But the film’s real pleasure lies in McDonagh’s verbal felicity – the naturalistic dialogue is a breath of fresh air – and while Farrell struggles to juggle his humorous ‘thick’ persona with romantic pathos, Gleeson excels in his role as the weary gangster pondering the possibilities for his own shot at redemption.
Cast and crew