Movie Review: In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh, 2012) – Two professional hitmen are instructed to hide out and await instructions in Bruges, after a mishandled job in London.

Verdict

Martin McDonagh’s directorial debut explores the difficult themes of sin and redemption, turning in a beautifully written film that is hilarious and moving in equal parts.

5/5

Review

It is about time I write about In Bruges, one of my all-time favourite films and the perfect introduction to Martin McDonagh, whose brilliant storytelling career traces back to theatre. Even in his twenties, the respected playwright had already produced several acclaimed tragicomedies on stage, as funny as they are heartbreaking.

Delving into the darker side of humanity, his works have been known to be controversial. Many of his characters possess a predisposition to violence, some more callous than others. This is seen in his 2004 film debut Six Shooter, where a recent widower finds an unexpected connection with a disturbed young man – in their grief. For that, he deservingly won his first Academy Award for Best Short Film.

In Bruges

It is not until four years later when he made his first full-length feature, which earned him more attention in Hollywood. In Bruges saw Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson at their careers best as Ray and Ken, two professional hitmen forced to lie low in the city of Belgium, after a job had gone horribly wrong.

Bruges serves as a proverbial purgatory for Ray, who awaits sentencing by crime boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) for his reprehensible mistake of killing a child. It is right before Christmas too. The setting is almost poetic, evoking poignancy in how the permanence of guilt can cast a shadow on the most beautiful things.

There is much to be read in their layered characterisation. Anguish follows Ray as much as it does Ken, who is unable to find peace even for the crimes he had gotten away with in the past. Their conversations are telling. No matter how much they try to lead a good life, they are haunted by fact that they have both committed murder for money.

But the two men vary in their definitions of sin and redemption. While Ray struggles with thoughts of suicide, Ken does not believe that death will deliver him from sin. “Just go away somewhere, get out of this business, and try to do something good,” he says to Ray. “You’re not going to help anybody dead.”

In Bruges

McDonagh’s screenplay proves thought-provoking on its lofty themes of morality, while also constantly playing on expectations. His strength is humour, too. The adept writer intersperses the gravity of the situation with genuinely funny moments, including Ray’s fascination with the dwarfism of Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), and Harry’s profanity-ridden exchanges with Ken.

Levity never overcomes the tragedy of the unfolding events in his artful narrative. Retribution is always close at hand, beauty pit against death in perfect juxtaposition. Even when Ray meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy) and falls in love, she appears less of a lover for him than something to lose. It is no surprise that McDonagh earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay that year, only that he lost it.

Mounting uncertainty surrounds Ray’s eventual fate, and there is no companion more perfect in all of this than Carter Burwell’s lyrical score. Against his compositions melodious yet sombre, it becomes all the more evocative and heartrending to watch, as the rivers of Bruges inevitably run red.

17 thoughts on “Movie Review: In Bruges (2008)”

    1. I agree! The first time I saw it, I didn’t know what to expect right up till the very end. That’s part of what made In Bruges such a phenomenal story. And I do think this film featured Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s best performances. Thanks for dropping by, Dan! 😊

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  1. Hard to believe this is 10 years old! Anyhoo, great review of what is one of my favourite movies from the last bunch of years. I reckon I’ll need to dig out the DVD for a rewatch…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Truly fantastic review for a film that has been sitting on my to watch list for such a longt time now that I can’t even remember how long it was that I added it. I have heard so many good things about it, that I kind of regret not having seen it yet. This review though, and hearing you say it’s one of your all time favorite movies…makes me move this on up in my priority list to watch this soon 😊

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  3. Haven’t seen this film in years, and I have to say I found it to be immensely entertaining from the comedy side of things, but the serious stuff was never too far away. I liked the reason they were sent to Bruges, and the constant running joke (It’s in belgium). Thanks for sharing

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    1. Same here. I revisit some scenes from time to time, but only rewatched it in full after seeing Three Billboards a month ago. Really glad I did. Both the funny and emotional bits still hold up. Thanks for reading, John! 🙂

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