Colin Farrell has spent so much time at Hollywood’s last-chance saloon recently he’s practically drunk the place dry. With more flops to his name than an impotent porn star, he’s the kind of actor who gives even Ben Affleck hope. Every now and then, though, he pulls out a winner that reminds us why directors keep signing him up and betting their shirts on him.
In Bruges is just such a winning turn, with playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh wringing bloody laughs from a jet-black farce about a pair of Irish killers cooling their heels in the picturesque Belgian tourist trap.
Dublin lowlifes are Farrell’s strongest suit, as proved by 2003’s Intermission and his cameo in true-life crime drama Veronica Guerin. It’s hardly surprising then, that the character of disgruntled hitman Ray proves to be such a perfect match for him. (Bruges, Ray decrees, is “a shithole” in a land only famous for “chocolate and paedophiles”.) Behind the bluster, however, lies an anguished soul tormented by his part in the death of a child – the reason why he and older cohort Ken (Brendan Gleeson) have been banished to the Lowlands to await orders from their bosses in London.
It’s a situation worthy of Beckett and McDonagh (who won an Oscar for his 2004 black comedy short Six Shooter) and the canny director plays up the fish-out-of-water angle for all its worth. (“That’s for John Lennon, you Yankee cunt!” yells Ray after clocking a Canadian who objects to his cigarette smoke.)
To make things even livelier, McDonagh throws in a comely local dealer (Clémence Poésy) whose clients include Jordan Prentice as the dwarf star of a movie that’s shooting in the heart of Bruges’ medieval spires. (“Jaysus,” Ray sighs sympathetically. “Even a midget has to take drugs to stick it!”)
But political incorrectness is sadly no replacement for good old-fashioned plot, the absence of which becomes harder to avoid the more sights Ken sees and the more pints Ray sinks. And the belated introduction of Ralph Fiennes as the boyos’ mad Cockney boss isn’t quite the coup it’s meant to be, resulting in a bloodily frenetic endgame that feels more of an afterthought than an organic development.
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Ralph Fiennes is no Sexy Beast and writer/director Martin McDonagh is stronger on dialogue than story, but this is still a laugh-out-loud dark comedy, giving Colin Farrell his finest role in ages.