In BrugesWritten and directedby Martin McDonahStarring Colin Farrell,Brendan Gleeson, RalphFiennes and Jordan PrenticeRated R
Goes well with: The Hit, The Matador, Grosse Pointe Blanke
Not too long ago, Colin Farrell was poised to be a box-office king. But the Irish actor wasn't so well suited to paycheck movies like S.W.A.T., Daredevil and Alexander, which made him a box-office property more than a serious actor. But perhaps a leaked celebrity sex tape and having a child have made him reflective, because he seems to be returning to the smaller fare that made him so appealing in the first place, recently appearing in Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream and now in Martin McDonagh's feature debut, the dark comedy In Bruges.
Farrell is really at the top of his game here, charming and very funny as the manic Ray, who, along with his mentor, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), is shipped off to hide out in the Belgian city of Bruges (pronounced “Brooj,” or as Farrell frequently says, “fookin' Brooj”) after a job goes bad. The Belgian tourist mecca suits Ken just fine; he's perfectly happy sightseeing through the city's old canals or exploring old churches. But Ray is a reluctant sightseer—he'd rather be back in London, drinking beer and bird-dogging chicks, and he never misses a chance to let Ken know it.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh has made a respectable living as a playwright, and it shows in his crackling dialogue. Ray is often profane and offensive, but his malice is directed at all citizens of the world. No one gets a pass in Bruges—not the Americans, Canadians, Irish, Brits or the resident Belgians. Hell, Ray finds himself at an impromptu party where a coked-up dwarf (Jordan Prentice) prophesizes a future race war. But McDonagh tempers the absurd with Ray's deep-seated anxiety over what went wrong with the hit, and the fact that he's stuck in “fookin' Brooj” for two weeks until their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), lets them know their next move.
Though In Bruges makes you remember why Farrell became a huge star in the first place, McDonagh's casting coup is Gleeson. As stable and rooted as a hired killer can be, Ken counterbalances Ray's agitation and buffers Harry's hysterically funny tirades. Gleeson is one of those oft-overlooked actors because he doesn't hog the spotlight and makes everyone around him better. Fiennes, too, is great as the crime boss with serious anger issues.
All this is communicated through McDonagh's salty, scorching dialogue. In fact, In Bruges feels like the dark American indie films that came out in the '90s. But like most black comedies and hitman films, it inevitably wraps things up amid graphic violence. The bloody ending can't sustain the feverishly emotional comedy the rest of the film is built on. McDonagh painted a room in dark colors, looked up to find himself in the last unpainted corner and then finished up with black. The entire film is dark, but the ending is lights out. Still, as cinematic vacations go, In Bruges is a trip worth taking.