Wed, 26th Feb 2020

'In Bruges': A Modern Classic

Text by: 

Adam Robertson

Photo by: 
Flickr: Colin Farrell (left) & Ezra Miller

Now that awards season is over with for another year and with all the critically acclaimed films having been reviewed to death or, in my case, all the ones a poor student could afford to see, I found myself left reminiscing on what to write about next. Scrolling through my twitter feed, an endless stream of football related nonsense that I can’t help but watch, I found an article on film director Martin McDonagh’s next project.

For those unfamiliar with this wonderful director’s work, he is the man responsible for the critically acclaimed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film follows a woman (Frances McDormand) who takes matters into her own hands after police fail to find the man responsible for the rape and death of her daughter. McDormand earned an Oscar for her work, as did co-star Sam Rockwell.

However, as brilliant as this film is, this article is a tribute to McDonagh’s debut feature film, the hilarious In Bruges. Endlessly scrolling through Netflix one evening, desperately looking for something outside the usual twenty-minute comedies I fill my time with, my reasons for taking on this short black comedy were twofold. The first was that it had always been recommended to me. The second was that, to my shame, I still hadn’t scratched every icon of the ‘100 Movies I must see’ poster I received for Christmas 2016. To my delight, I would discover what I would easily now consider one of my favourite films.

The film follows two hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who are sent to Bruges by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to lay low. However, as a result of Ray’s actions in a previous job, Ken is ordered to kill him.

Unlike most gangster films, it’s unbelievably simple. There are no overlapping storylines (Pulp Fiction), no Al Pacino or De Niro (basically any half decent gangster film worth mentioning), it’s two Irish blokes wandering around a random city in Belgium giving each other abuse. At one stage, you may begin to wonder what the point really is. Remarkably, for a gangster film, it’s really a tale of friendship.

Part of the film’s greatness though, is its simplicity. Despite their jobs, we can’t help but root for Ray and Ken; the chemistry created between Farrell and Gleeson is one of the most enjoyable elements of the film. Ralph Fiennes also provides fun, even if it is somewhat short-lived, as their raging, cockney boss.

What makes the film is its script. Up until the film’s final moments, there is very little of the action we might expect from a gangster film. Instead, McDonagh lets the characters develop simply through the way they chat to one another. It would have been easy for the film to get bogged down in scenes of two men chatting to one another, but it rarely falters.

Ray is essentially a man-child, unimpressed with the ancient medieval architecture which encompasses the town. A cynical individual, his biggest moment of pleasure comes when he is allowed to go to the pub and when he spots a film set on which one of the actors is a dwarf. Ken, meanwhile, is fascinated by the city and we are quick to forget his status as a trained killer when he wanders alongside tourists, finding that his skills from work are no use when he’s ten cents short to reach the top of the tower – a detail to bear in mind if you go onto watch the movie.

Of course, though, the film is a black comedy and, naturally, it has its darker moments. It’s a tale of how two hitmen wrestle with their consciences. At times it’s a hard-hitting tale and plays on the old cliché that your past will eventually catch up to you. It does so though in a way that still leaves us rooting for the two main characters. You really do wish they could forget their mistakes and start fresh somewhere.

Imagery surrounding purgatory is commonplace throughout the film, particularly when Ken forces Rey to visit a church and confront the fact that, despite McDonagh’s best efforts, they’re not really charming, funny people. Similarly, if you love reading in some film theory, one which the director probably never intended or has ever even read about , then In Bruges provides you with plenty opportunity to drop it in. If you’re one for noticing the little details, then this film is very much for you.

I’m not going to commit aspiring film critic suicide and say it should be up there with The Godfather or Goodfellas. As Ralph Fiennes’s character Harry says though, “you’ve got to stick to your principles.” It’s just that every now and then you find something that, for some unbeknown reason, really stays with you. For me, In Bruges, falls very firmly into that bracket.