Thank goodness for In Bruges. I was beginning to think Colin Farrell wasn’t going to release another great film.
His first truly great film was Tigerland. One of Joel Schumacher’s better efforts, Tigerland largely succeeds because of Farrell’s breakout role as Private Bozz. Utterly compelling throughout, it’s a brooding, believable performance that reminds you what all the fuss was about in the first place. Since then, he’s starred in Daredevil, Minority Report, S.W.A.T, The Recruit, Alexander… the list of undemanding material is considerable. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy him in those films, far from it. I like him as an actor and despite the choice of roles themselves, I largely enjoyed his performances – even his whacked out villain shtick as Bullseye. Even so, I got the distinct feeling Farrell was wasted in them all. In Bruges makes up for all that, and then some.
It helps that this is a superb film. Directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, it’s the story of hitmen Ray and Ken, sent to Bruges for a couple of weeks to steer clear of trouble after Ray’s first job goes awry. While waiting for boss Harry, the two hang out in the Belgian city. Ray gets on Ken’s nerves. Ken just wants to take in the sights. And Harry’s not happy. It’s a simple, familiar story but this is as fresh a take on the gangster flick as you could wish to see. The characters here are human, not unthinking killing machines. They have wives and lost loves. They have friendships. They have believability.
Farrell’s Ray is like a stroppy kid taken to the last place on earth he wants to be. Constantly bemoaning his plight and the city he’s found himself in, his childlike behaviour and his loathing of culture is where the bulk of the film’s many laughs come from. He’s also unquestionably rude and obnoxious as the film opens up, leading to genuinely laugh out loud moments with some American tourists.
And yet Ray’s equally the film’s heart. Without giving the game away, his first job has hit him hard and, revealed in flashback as the film progresses, the horror of what occurred during that job isn’t lost on him. His progression from foul-mouthed, insensitive adolescent to foul-mouthed, thoughtful grown-up is absorbing to watch. And what a foul mouth. From the off, In Bruges doesn’t let up on the swearing so if you’re easily offended by that sort of thing, just be warned. It’s pretty relentless stuff.
Fellow hitman Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson, is by Ray’s side throughout the film, acting at times like a disgruntled parent, and at others like a true friend, worried for what might happen to his fellow hired gun. Gleeson, like Farrell, is outstanding throughout, as is Ralph Fiennes as Harry. Perhaps inspired by Sexy Beast he gives it his all and the results are outstanding. Playing totally against type, he gives a scene-stealing grunt and gnarl to Harry that is memorable long after the lights go up. He also imbues Harry with humour and malice in equal measures, making any moments of violence all the more shocking.
In many ways, the real star of the film is Bruges itself. I’ve visited the city a few times and I’m amazed at how much access the filmmakers appear to have been given in putting this film together. It’s a great advert for the place, despite Ray’s constant put-downs.
While the main thrust of the film is played out, In Bruges takes in some cracking diversions along the way. The scene in the trailer where Farrell karate chops a dwarf is part of a much longer, much more trippy scene taking in drugs, drink and prostitutes along the way. That it all ends up with a heartfelt question by Ken relating to his own past surprises is typical of the film’s more touching moments. The best scene of the lot is saved until the end though, with a climax that picks up the pace and keeps the fingernails well worn down.
In Bruges is witty, quirky and extremely touching. It’s very funny and downright bizarre in places. But at its heart, it’s a tale of facing your demons.