Low coun­try for bold men

In Bruges is a clever com­edy-thriller from play­wright Martin McDon­agh, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

IN BRUGES Di­rected by Martin McDon­agh. Star­ring Colin Farrell, Bren­dan Glee­son, Ralph Fi­ennes, Clé­mence Poésy, Jéremie Rénier, Jor­dan Pren­tice, Zeiljko Ivanek, Ciarán Hinds 16 cert, gen re­lease, 107 min

IT SEEMED log­i­cal and only a mat­ter of time for play­wright Martin McDon­agh to turn to cin­ema, given the pro­fu­sion of movie ref­er­ences and in­flu­ences in his writ­ing for the theatre. He made an aus­pi­cious film de­but three years ago with the taut, som­bre half-hour Six Shooter, which won an Os­car for its tragic tale set al­most en­tirely within the con­fines of a train.

Mov­ing on to fea­ture films with In Bruges, McDon­agh has a whole city at his dis­posal, and he seizes upon that ac­cess to make ex­ten­sive use of its di­verse lo­ca­tions and dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture. The me­dieval Bel­gian city is a mag­net for tourists, but McDon­agh shakes it up with a plot­line that turns Bruges into a hide­out for a cou­ple of Ir­ish pro­fes­sional as­sas­sins.

Ken (Bren­dan Glee­son), the older of the two, feels pro­tec­tive to­wards his part­ner in crime, Ray (Colin Farrell), who is rid­dled with guilt be­cause his first job as a hit man in Lon­don has gone dis­as­trously wrong. Their hard-boiled boss, Harry (Ralph Fi­ennes), has or­dered them to Bruges, where they must await fur­ther in­struc­tions from him.

Ken is con­tent to while away the time by soak­ing up the cul­ture, which is of no in­ter­est to Ray, who dis­misses his­tory as “a whole load of stuff that al­ready hap­pened”. A randy Dubliner, Ray re­sents hav­ing his sex­ual op­por­tu­ni­ties curbed be­cause he has to share a ho­tel room with Ken for two weeks.

In out­line, the screen­play for In Bruges sounds like yet an­other vari­a­tion on the stock “odd cou­ple” movie for­mula, and it su­per­fi­cially re­sem­bles I Went Down, Paddy Breath­nach’s 1997 Ir­ish road movie, which was scripted by an­other play­wright (Conor McPher­son) and also fea­tured Glee­son as a gang­ster on an out-of-town as­sign­ment with a younger ac­com­plice.

McDon­agh’s script piles on divert­ing in­ci­dents by hav­ing Ken and Ray cross paths with Dutch pros­ti­tutes, Bel­gian drug deal­ers, obese US tourists, anti-smok­ing Cana­di­ans, and a film crew shoot­ing in the area. And he spikes the di­a­logue with char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally jet-black hu­mour and ex­ple­tive-lit­tered di­a­logue. While McDon­agh rev­els in po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness, he over­loads the movie with repet­i­tive lines ex­press­ing Ray’s ho­mo­pho­bia and his pe­cu­liar ob­ses­sion with dwarfs.

As we have come to ex­pect from McDon­agh, the movie is pre­oc­cu­pied with vi­o­lence, and as he pulls the tan­gled nar­ra­tive strands to­gether for the finale, this is re­leased graph­i­cally as bul­lets fly and bod­ies fall. His approach is so self-aware, and the film turns so genre-ref­er­en­tial, that the vil­lain­ous Harry, when he fi­nally ap­pears, ac­tu­ally says, “This is the shootout”.

The three stars are on prime form in this ex­u­ber­ant com­e­dythriller, achieved with a dis­tinc­tive vis­ual style. Farrell has never been more en­gag­ing, Glee­son is won­der­fully dead­pan, and Fi­ennes clearly rel­ishes be­ing cast against type as a spiv who talks about mat­ters of hon­our.

The sound­track fea­tures a driv­ing score from Carter Bur­well, who has com­posed the mu­sic for all of Joel and Ethan Coen’s movies, and the songs in­clude Raglan Road per­formed by The Dublin­ers.

Bren­dan Glee­son and Colin Farrell cool their heels in Bruges

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