Low country for bold men
In Bruges is a clever comedy-thriller from playwright Martin McDonagh, writes Michael Dwyer
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