For a film on IMDB’s top 250, with a Generally Favorable score of 67 on Metacritic and an 81% Fresh rating on Rottentomatoes (147 reviews counted), In Bruges is a film which nonetheless flew under my rather sophisticated radar when it was released last June.
In fact, despite the film’s overall positive reviews, In Bruges seemed to attract very little attention at all, with its three Golden Globe nominations (Best Picture Musical or Comedy, and one each for stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, the latter of which took home the award) coming, to me at least, as a complete surprise. However, having finally seen In Bruges, I can say that I think it is a fantastic film, one which has quickly established itself as one of my favorite films of 2008.
In Bruges is the story of young hit-man Ray (Farrell), who is forced to flee London and hide out in the Belgian city of Bruges after a murder gone wrong. Watching over him is Ken (Gleeson), a more experienced assassin with a taste for tourism. While the two men wait for a call from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to tell them it’s safe to return, they are forced to endure each others’ company as they take in the sights. Things quickly go wrong as Ray tries to cope with the disastrous results of his botched job and Ken receives an order that his conscience may not let him carry out. Ray and Ken soon find themselves in a battle with Harry through the streets of Bruges.
I realize that synopsis may not make the most sense, but that’s due to my attempt not to spoil anything rather than because of any flaw in the film. For In Bruges is fantastically written, well deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Writer/director Martin McDonagh has crafted one of the most twisted dark comedies in recent years. It is a bleak film about sin, death, and midgets that twists and turns in a very satisfying (if sometimes predictable) manner. McDonagh has written a cleverly funny screenplay with a strong authorial voice, infusing it with references to literature and film.
Like the script, the other aspects of In Bruges’ production meet a high standard. Shot in a very reserved, serene style, In Bruges is beautiful to look at. As Gleeson’s character states, Bruges is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Belgium, dating back to the Crusades. McDonagh and cinematographer Eigil Bryld have captured the sense of immutability that comes with such age, as well as infusing everything- especially the night scenes- with what can only be described as a fairy tale-like quality. In what was a strong year for cinematography, In Bruges is one of the standouts; at least in my opinion.
Performance-wise, In Bruges is extremely well acted. Gleeson and Fiennes are two of the great British actors working today, and neither man disappoints here. They play the parts of “decent” killers skillfully, balancing the humorous and cutthroat aspects of their characters very well. Colin Farrell gives what is probably the best performance of his career, and is certainly one of the highlights of the film. He runs a gamut of emotions, moving between funny, stoned, and devastated with great aplomb. His performance is incredibly sincere and touching, filled with an innocence that belies his character’s choice of career. Farrell was definitely deserving of his Golden Globe win.
The reason I think In Bruges went so unnoticed by the majority of the public is a combination of misguided advertising brought about by an improper release date. I embedded the trailer specifically for the purposes of elaborating this theory. I don’t know how you, Faithful Reader, felt watching that trailer, but when I first saw it last year, I was left with the impression that In Bruges was going to be a slightly surreal independent action-comedy with little real substance. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In Bruges is an engrossing film, with a strong morality and powerful emotional undercurrents. I believe that if the film had been released later in 2008, rather than in the middle of the summer season, then it could have been advertised as the dark, moody film that it is. Instead, advertisements tried to fit In Bruges into the standard mold of summer fare, a mold it is unsuited for.
To conclude, I highly recommend In Bruges to anyone who enjoys movies with real subtlety and depth. Its dry wit, dark tone, and tortured characters should be immensely appealing to those of you who appreciate a good comic tragedy. Actually, while it is classified as a “black comedy,” I usually find myself thinking of it as a piece of drama, which I think speaks to the film’s credit, for In Bruges strikes a perfect balance between humor and drama. One of 2008’s greatest flims has gone largely overlooked. I ask you to change that. Go out and rent it, at least; you won’t be disappointed.