One of the surprise movies of 2008 was the dark comedy In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. This was his first full-length feature although in 2006, he won an Academy Award for Best Short Film for his movie Six Shooter. In Bruges chronicles two London hitmen who seek shelter in Bruges, Belgium following a hit gone wrong and await instructions from their ruthless boss. It stars Ralph Fiennes as the aforementioned ruthless boss in an effective albeit absurd role with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell starring as the hitmen. Farrell plays Ray, who’s guilt-stricken and would rather be anywhere else in the world but Bruges. It’s the best I’ve Farrell in any role by a fair margin and prior to this I never really took him seriously as an actor. Brendan Gleeson, one of the better actors who seem to have flown under the radar, portrays the other hitman, Ken. He has depicted Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series but his list of credits is quite impressive and includes roles in Braveheart, Troy, and Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York. His depiction of Winston Churchill in the TV movie Into the Storm garnered him an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe nomination. Gleeson’s character was the more experienced hitman but at the same time, a more optimistic and romantic character than Farrell’s Ray. Despite killing people for a living he is able to sell the audience on the idea that he is a good guy who reluctantly does bad things. Gleeson starred in the lead role of the The Guard alongside Don Cheadle in one of my 5 favorite movies of 2011 and was particularly effective. The Guard was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of Martin.
In Bruges had a pretty good box-office showing in the UK and a mediocre showing at the U.S. box office but I’d argue that was due to poor advertising. If you watch the trailer you’d think that this was a light crime film in the mold of a Guy Ritchie movie and thus lacking any sort of significant depth. On the contrary In Bruges is far from shallow, and with an extremely witty script, explores issues of racism and views on life and death. I think it is a bit similar to Adventureland in terms of marketing failures. After viewing the trailer, you’d think Adventureland was a film akin to Superbad, but in truth Adventureland is only moderately funny and that humor is in the end superseded by a coming of age story and Jesse Eisenberg’s search for identity.
As I mentioned prior, the script was fantastically witty and clever, the dialogue especially poignant, and McDonagh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He does a good job as he navigates seamless shifts from light to heavy and silly to sincere. There are some truly stunning and eloquently beautiful shots in the film but more of that is due to Bruges picturesque natural beauty than any cinematic technique McDonagh employs although there is one truly brilliant nearly 5 minute tracking shot of Ken on the phone that McDonagh directs with supreme confidence. The score was also particular effective and helped cue the audience on which parts are light and which are serious and also aided in the effortless transitions between these phases. In Bruges was really a surprisingly great movie, truly unique and a prime example of the genre of dramadies, utilizing dark wit and an astute screenplay. In Bruges represents an extremely successful foray into feature films for playwright-cum-screenwriter and director, Martin McDonagh.