By Christian DiMartino
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen hit-men quite like the ones at the center of In Bruges.
That’s not to say that the profession has never been the subject of comedy before, yet here it’s done a little differently. There are more to these men than what appears on the surface. That’s not to say that they’re not cold-blooded- on many occasions, they probably have been cold-blooded, and are also undeniably foul-mouthed and angry. Yet, in ways that never feel hokey or unconvincing, still waters sort of run deep within them.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson sound like quite the random match, but prove to be brilliant, together and separately, as Ray and Ken, two hit-men who are sent to Bruges to lay low after a hit goes horribly, tragically wrong. Ray hates the place, constantly complaining about how boring and ugly it is. Ken has more of an admiration for it. The film follows these two as they sight-see and take in the city.
Yet it’s these two characters, and another one that I will mention soon, that make the film intriguing. Ray is obnoxiously rude, angry, and constantly looking to pick fights. Though one can see how maybe Ray lashes out at people as a way to take his mind off of what is really haunting him. That being, the accidental murder of a child. Ken is quite the opposite of Ray. He’s quiet, soft-spoken, and tender. Ray may drive him nuts, but Ken also cannot help but care for the lad. These are hit-men, mind you. A profession in which they shouldn’t care about who they are killing, or why, because it is just a job.
The deeper you get into the film though, the more difficult the dilemmas become. See, the two of them are actually being stationed in Bruges because this is to be Ray’s final resting place, and their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes, a great mix of hilarious and terrifying) wanted Ray to experience something nice and wonderful before he died. Now imagine that. Harry is a guy who, as we gather, has been in this business for many years, and has probably killed many people. With that said, he also wants the man he wants dead to have a nice experience before he is killed. Why is Ray being killed in the first place? Simple: Harry, by means of morals, is appalled by the murder of the child.
In Bruges is directed by Martin McDonagh, who went on to direct one of the best films of the last 10 years, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film, like that film, is one that is great not only because of the craftsmanship, but because of the screenplay. In Bruges is very much an actor’s movie. If you give great actors something worthwhile, they will deliver upon it. Deliver they do. The screenplay here is a work of genius. Foul-mouthed and angry, but always smooth, everyone involved appears to be having a ball. Not only is the dialogue witty and razor-sharp, but a big part of the genius lies in the plotting. McDonagh lays the groundwork out in front of us from the beginning, and by the time you reach the brilliant conclusion, even the most random of details appears to make sense.
There isn’t a moment in this film that rings false. It’s often pretty hilarious, and at times so shocking that you can’t help but laugh with it. It’s also a film with its fair share of surprises. What is most surprising about In Bruges is the subtle humanity within it. These characters act and react in a way that never feels… well, out of character. Farrell has arguably never been better. Farrell and Fiennes compete for the biggest laughs, but I give the edge to Farrell because he doesn’t just steal the show, he owns it. That isn’t to discredit Gleeson though. Frankly, he has never been better either, far as I’m aware. Ken is, of course, left with the task of killing Ray, but you know that, despite his flaws, Ken cares about Ray in a number of ways. Fiennes doesn’t arrive into the film until about the halfway mark, but man is he a big ball of nutty fun. He’s fast, furious, and really, quite angry, but a blast to watch… and yet also has a weird shade of humanity.
Here is a film that is richly, consistently entertaining from beginning to end. It’s also, quite often, utterly hilarious. The key to this film’s success lies not just in its screenplay- which is, again, sharp, witty, and original- but in its actors. Every line here is delivered with gusto, and perhaps it’s because the actors were given a screenplay so great that any performance short of stellar would’ve been a disservice to it.
Streaming on HBO Max