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In Bruges


‘…smart, thoughtful and multi-layered, In Bruges is a wild vacation that any broad-minded cineaste should book themselves in for…’

Expectations can be deceptive; there’s few more overdone clichés that the pair of bickering hit-men, done to death in the wake of Pulp Fiction and the refuge of many a hopeless screenwriter. A great writer, however, can re-invigorate any trope, so step forward Martin McDonough, a theatre scribe who made the jump into movies with real success with In Bruges. Bruges is a well-preserved medieval town in Belgium, an unlikely setting for a violent gangster comedy, but that’s not the only surprise up the film-maker’s sleeve.

We start with an unpleasant bang; Ray (Colin Farrell) kills a priest in a church, but accidentally shoots a child dead in the process. His mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) spirits him off to sleepy Bruges, where a tourist trade gives them cover until the matter can be resolves. Ray is suicidal, but finds solace by infiltrating a film-crew shooting a homage to Don’t Look Now, complete with a drug-addled man affected by dwarfism. Ray falls for dealer Chloe (Clémence Poésy), who is working a scam that backfires spectacularly when her John is shot in the face with blanks by Ray. The two men pass the days anxiously, awaiting the arrival of ruthless boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and a reckoning that’s brutal, violent and defies prediction.

In Bruges has a great ending; you simply won’t see it coming, since there’s no reason to expect the fictional film’s leading actor to be wearing a school-uniform, or the events that his costume triggers. Bruges is hell, or at least purgatory, and death is a release; the surreal nature of the backdrop is a major player here. The acting is top notch, but it’s the script that knocks In Bruges into the top drawer. McDonough’s use of language is astonishingly supple, and foreshadows his deft, colloquial work in Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I expected to hate In Bruges when I first saw it; gangster comedies rarely find any kind of purchase. But In Bruges turns our notions inside out; it’s a profane, shocking film that never lingers on violence, but exhumes humanity from lost soul characters who find that nothing in their life makes as much sense as the way they exit this world. Smart, thoughtful and multi-layered, In Bruges is a wild vacation that any broad-minded cineaste should book themselves in for.


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    • Highest standards of film-journalism here. No stone left unturned. Wish I heard words and could capture their magic the way McDonaugh does…

  1. The two gangsters were supposed to be English originally – Farrell persuaded McDonagh to make them Irish. According to Farrell (and it’s ages since I read the interview in question) McDonagh was sceptical because he felt some of the dialogue would only make sense if voiced by English/Cockney characters – he cited the term ‘lollipop lady’, as an example. McDonagh assumed this to be a uniquely English term, something that made me laugh out loud.*

    The acting is topnotch throughout but the real surprise for me was Fiennes. This was a guy who’d made a career out of playing tormented toffs, after all. It’s a pity he didn’t do more parts like this.

    *Try as I might, I’ve never been able to pinpoint where in the film somebody actually says ‘lollipop lady’.

    • McDonaugh is just an amazing writer. As I noted, I assumed that a hitman comedy was going to be awful. But since seeing this, I’ve seen several of his plays, and read most of the others, and he’s got a deft and unique feel for language that is quite remarkable. And yes, Fiennes is a surprise here, not his usual deal at all. Here’s my findings!

  2. Ok, clicked on your avatar to show your whole feed and this showed up. But it’s still not showing up individually. Sometimes I wonder what WP is thinking.

      • Not in MY reader. I can see yesterday’s post but not Bruges.
        When I click on your name of “” it brings up your entire site in the reader and I can see Bruges then.

        • I inadvertantly posted it in the wrong position, but then rescheduled it for this morning. Not sure why that would cause problems…

            • I had to write a number of pieces and put them in the drafts file because I was reviewing in Edinburgh. But when they were published, they listed on the website for the time they were created. For In Bruges, that was between the Statue and She-hulk. When I saw it was in the wrong position, I rescheduled it for 10.15 this morning, and it now appears int he correct position as the latest review.

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