Despite the marketing campaign and gun toting, blood spattered poster, In Bruges is not a Tarantino-inspired series of shootouts separated by pop culture-referencing dialogue. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
The 2008 Sundance Film Festival opener is written and directed by London playwright Martin McDonagh. Having wet his feet with the Academy Award winning live-action short, Six Shooter, McDonagh applies his stage experience and actor-friendly style to his feature debut.
A fatal mistake on a job results in Ray (Colin Farrell) being sent to Bruges just before Christmas; and to keep him out of trouble, Harry, the boss (Ralph Fiennes), has sent Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to baby-sit. Bruges is the most well preserved medieval city in Belgium, so there is plenty to see. Unfortunately for the hit men, Ray is unimpressed by the gothic scenery in spite of Ken’s wholehearted efforts. When word does finally come from Harry, the pair are lurched into a life-and-death struggle with climactic results.
The film is somewhat of a travelogue, as Ken becomes the well-informed tourist, sharing his newfound cultural facts with Ray as they take in the sites. On the other hand, Ray’s attempts at a good time in the fairy-tale city include insulting Americans, punching Canadians, copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, and indulging his fascination with midgets. Ray’s relationship with the city is further warped by his encounter with a Hieronymus Bosch-esque movie set, its American dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice) and his drug dealer, a Dutch prostitute (Clémence Poésy).
Ray is coarse and unpredictable, which Farrell does naturally well; however, he also has moments of sincere vulnerability and remorse, which Farrell does well enough. Conversely, Ken is a fatherly figure, watching over Ray; Gleeson appears to genuinely exude his character’s qualities, portraying the part flawlessly. Then there is Harry, who is simply intimidating. Audiences’ first encounter with him is a curse-filled, narrated letter, followed by an unnerving phone call. Once revealed physically, Fiennes delivers on all fronts.
Those pining for another Guy Ritchie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a little David Lynch thrown in will welcome McDonagh to the fold. This could be the beginning of a promising film career.