Film Friday: In Bruges

rGxc09T1jXk98HforvqhBaHIaRW Promotional image from In Bruges (2008). Dir Martin McDonagh.

I have a fondness for films (and books, TV series, etc) that play with the conventions of a genre. I like the sudden shifts in mood and perspective, the unexpected bending of familiar tropes, the breaking of anticipated patterns.

I like In Bruges.

The film debut of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (he wrote and directed), In Bruges is at heart a morality play that explores how far a person must go to follow their moral code, and whether — or how — one can obtain redemption.

The film starts with an immediate jolt. Over shots of medieval church interiors and deserted cobbled streets, a man’s voice says “After I’d killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off my hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions.”

The speaker (Colin Farrell) is Ray, a first-time hit-man. The “kill” was supposed to be a paedophile priest, but it has gone spectacularly wrong. The instructions are to get out of London and go to Bruges.

Accompanying Ray is Ken (played by the magnificent Brendan Gleeson), an older, wiser fellow hit-man who attempts to make the best of their exile by insisting the pair go sightseeing.

What follows is funny and poignant and sad and, for me at least, quite unexpected.

In Bruges could be a formulaic comedy caper, but is much cleverer. At moments, it could be a Tarantino film, but the characters are far too achingly real and ordinary. It could be a gore-fest — and there is considerable violence (unsurprising given Ray and Ken’s career choice) — but it is held by a thread of morality and beliefs about what is right.

Towards the end of the film when Ray and his borderline psychopathic boss (played by Ralph Fiennes) engage in a shoot-out, they first agree to literally “take it outside” to protect a pregnant woman from stray bullets. This involves a funny and very child-like squabble about counting to ten before either of them shoots.

In Bruges delighted me because it has an intelligent script, with something to actually say, and it puts the words into the mouths of intelligent, talented actors. Of the three leads, I think Brendon Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes are so good I’d pay to watch them watching paint dry. Of Colin Farrell, I had mixed feelings, but in the end I think he inhabited the character so well that I believed in it and actually cared what happened to him. Which I’m not going to tell you.

Martin McDonagh has gone on to make two other feature films; Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The latter is, in my opinion, brilliant and would make a wonderful double feature with In Bruges.

Just sayin’

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films by visiting their blogs.









30 thoughts on “Film Friday: In Bruges

  1. I’ve never watched this one. Will have to remember, although I can tell already those accents are going to be strong and I’ll have to be on my listening game 🙂 The pregnant scene you described sounds great.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Su, you very nearly made me wish to see this film. Though, in the end, I won’t. I’ve never ever been able to ‘stomach’ violence, gore and such and the name Tarantino gives me hives. BUT on the other hand, it sounds such an intelligent, clever and well played plot that I could almost be persuaded. You’re not only a fantastic gardener, cook, restaurateur, artist, but could also take up film critic on the spot! Have a great weekend! (And the names of those stars….. made me swoon too!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does have a great cast!! I’m with you on not liking violent films, especially as so much of it seems utterly gratuitous. I think a film about killers inevitably will be violent, but it was never glorified.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve seen this twice, once when it came out and once after we’d actually been to Bruges to check if it made geographic sense. It did – apart from one church playing the part of another. And the final scene couldn’t possibly have happened! We saw the same dog in the window by the canal – I found out afterwards he was quite famous and had his own webpage, but he is now deceased. I think it’s a great film, though gangster movies are not usually my thing. There’s far more to this one though, I didn’t find it too bloody.

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    • Knowing the geography of a film setting can really spoil its enjoyment. I remember seeing one Kiwi film with a scene that began in an alleyway a few streets from my house in Auckland and cut to a plaza in Hamilton, 100km away. Admittedly The Kiwi audience for a film is relatively small (if it has any chance of financial success), but it still grated.


  4. How could I forget to put this film on my list?!?! I LOVE In Bruges!!! It’s everything you said – cleverly written, brilliant, very surprising at times and if course the cast is just wonderful! Let’s throw our money in a hat and pay Gleeson and Fiennes watching paint dry while we watch them. 😉
    Since I’ve only ever watched this film in German I can’t comment on the Irish accents being difficult to understand but I generally love listening to Irish and Scottish accents. 😀
    Also just watched the Three Billboards recently and found it utterly brilliant! I had no idea it was written by the same playwright. I was thinking of including it in Film Fridays even though I’ve watched it only one time – it made such an impression on me!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve not seen this but it does sound intriguing! I remember Colin Farrell starting out in the Irish drama ‘Ballykissangel’ and thought he was great even as a youngster.

    Three Billboards I will, however, not be watching. A scene involving a window popped up on my Youtube recommendations and curiosity got the best of me. Exactly the sort of sadly realistic violence I dislike and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head since!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember Ballykissangel too, and had forgotten Colin Farrell was in it!

      Like Three Billboards, In Bruges has realistic violence, so you might want to give it a miss, however much it could be argued that the violence actually makes the moral messages stronger.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Indeed. There are some films that I have seen once, Schindlers List for example, which I believe everyone should see. But I will never watch it again.
        I could write a post about well-regarded mainstream movies that have really upset me over the years: Cold Mountain, Dead Man Walking, etc. Both feature realistic sadistic acts against innocents.

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  6. Pingback: Film Friday – “You ain’t trynta make me believe in reincarnation or somethin’ are ya?” | Art Expedition

  7. A great review of a film I’ve only seen the once. It took me a long time to watch this as I unforgivable cast this off as a ‘gritty British crime movie’. I couldn’t believe how much character this film has, its so funny yet poignant. I enjoyed this start to finish and will re-watch this after reading your review. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

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