In Bruges


There’s a sequence in Martin McDonagh’s scabrous black comedy in which hapless hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) and his more experienced colleague, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), noodle through a Belgian art gallery and linger at ‘The Last Judgment’, a surreal picture of torture by 15th Century Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. This isn’t just to showcase Ray’s cultural ignorance or highlight Ken’s more thoughtful mindset, but to nudge the theme of purgatory and redemption blinking into the muted Belgian light. For In Bruges is about a holiday not from, but on the way to, Hell. Hiding after a botched job, Ray is tormented by his conscience, while Ken sees hope in the youngster’s anguish. When crime boss ’Arry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives he brings along carnage, a potty mouth and the possibility of redemption…

So, In Bruges is about guilt, trying to make amends and living with your mistakes. It’s also about a racist dwarf, “manky hookers” and funny but fucking coarse dialogue. Some US critics confused the attitudes of the harsh hitmen for that of their writer, but that’s only testament to McDonagh’s commitment to his characters and his refusal to distance himself from the dense Ray or the morally questionable Ken – a nice bloke who happens to kill people for a living. In Bruges is alive to the idea of consequence and ambiguity and veers from slapstick to contemplating sin without skipping a beat. It’s a crime comedy high-wire that’s rarely been walked successfully since 1994’s Pulp Fiction. But even though McDonagh’s discursive, quick-fire patter could be termed Tarantino-esque, that label feels like a diminishment. This is a fiercely original, very funny, none-more-bleak noir – it has as much in common with Out Of The Past as it does QT’s sprawling hitmen-on-the-lam Oscar-winner.

Although he’s from a theatre background, McDonagh never sets a stale stage, allowing Eigil Bryld (The King)’s restless camera to capture the beauty of both Bruges, drug dealer love interest Clémence Poésy and the fantastic Farrell – whose performance as a dangerous little boy lost serves as a potent reminder why, pre-Alexander, he was considered the most exciting young actor working today. The 18 minutes of deleted scenes here include an excellent bedroom discussion on the relative morality of killing priests as opposed to children, a conversation that further fleshes out the theme of the year’s darkest, most deserving cult hit.

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