Despite the fact that I think writer-director Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, In Bruges, is darn close to brilliant and a bracing blast of cheeky fresh air, it’s probably wise to note that it’s also extremely violent on occasion and the language is colorful to say the least. When I arrived at the Fine Arts Theatre to see the film, I was told that four people had already walked out of the movie in indignation over both. So there you are. It’s pretty bloody and the “f” and, worse yet, “c” words fly freely. If that offends you, upsets you or otherwise disarranges your undergarments, don’t see this movie—unless you like being offended and complaining about it and the moral depravity of those who would find merit in such a film.
Playwright McDonagh scored a bull’s-eye with the short film Six Shooter (2004)—also starring Brendan Gleeson—which snagged McDonagh an Oscar. In Bruges is in a similar ironic mode—albeit greatly expanded—and likewise filled with odd characters with even odder obsessions and a marked tendency to go off on rambling digressions peppered with esoteric references. For example, late in the film, hit man Ken (Gleeson) tells crime boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) how much he loves and respects him, earning Harry’s ire for “going all Robert Powell on me,” a phrase that baffles even Ken till Harry elaborates, “Robert Powell in bloody Jesus of Nazareth.”
At the center of In Bruges are hit men Ken and Ray (Colin Farrell), who have been sent by their boss, Harry, to hide out in the small fairy-tale-like Belgian town of Bruges in the aftermath of Ray’s assassination of a priest (an unbilled Ciarán Hinds). It’s not so much the killing of the priest that has set this in motion, as it is the accidental killing of an altar boy in the process. The pair are supposed to wait in Bruges until Harry calls with further instructions—something that could take up to two weeks.
This doesn’t bother Ken, who is fascinated by this almost perfectly preserved medieval town, but it’s another matter for Ray, who is already suicidally depressed over killing the altar boy. Ray is more or less of the opinion that any place that isn’t Dublin is a waste of time, and Bruges seems like the biggest waste of a town possible to him (“If I was brought up on a farm and was retarded maybe I’d be impressed, but I wasn’t, so I’m not”). In Ray’s view, nothing happens in Bruges. Of course, it turns out that a lot happens in Bruges—much of which is in perfect keeping with the fairy-tale quality of the place, though this is a fairy tale with more than its share of nightmarish occurrences.
In short order, we find an “art” film being shot. In Bruges soon involves a dwarf (naturally), Jimmy (Jordan Prentice, who played the “Giant Bag of Weed” in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle); elephantine American tourists; a pretty girl (Clémence Poésy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) who might provide romance; a quantity of drugs; a gun dealer (Eric Godon) with a fixation on the word “alcove”; and more. Explaining just how everything and everyone fits into the film would do a disservice to the ever-surprising world of In Bruges. While the complexity of the film’s structure—not to mention the sheer cleverness of how the individual elements interconnect to lead to the inevitable climax—demands a second viewing, seeing the film with a minimum of specific information the first time is the way to go.
The brilliance of the acting of the three leads would be enough to make the film worthwhile (who knew Colin Farrell was a natural comedic actor?), but as the film reveals its surprising depths, its witty convolutions and its deep sense of irony, you realize that you’re in the presence of something unusual indeed. Keep track of what’s going on—nothing is without a point—and especially take note of the principles that govern the main characters. Those very principles—combined with their weaknesses—are what dictate exactly how the drama will play out. It’s first-rate entertainment and more, but it’s also, once again, not for everyone. Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use.