The genre of hitman movies has just gotten another addition in the form of In Bruges, and this one deserves the accolades. Contrary to the trailers, which paint the film as a comedy in the same vein as Gross Pointe Blank (another standout in the field), In Bruges takes its subject matter very seriously, infusing humor into a dark, compelling drama.
The story is simple: two hitmen, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) have just finished a job and are hiding out in Bruges, an idyllic tourist attraction in Belgium, waiting for instructions from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Of course, there's more to it than that. There always is. Here though, we get the whole story in pealed of layers, each time we learn something new, we must rethink what has gone before and put that bit of information into its proper place. In Bruges, then, is not your typical shoot 'em up. It is a film for those who want their action mixed in with thought-provoking conversation.
Martin McDonagh, who is making his feature debut as both writer and director, tackles his subject with unusual empathy. In Ken, he gives us a seasoned veteran of the job, someone who kills professionally and without emotion. Gleeson attacks the role with gusto, creating a nuanced performance of someone who has seen so much death and yet still has a healthy respect for life and the living.
He is countered by Ray, who is young, hotheaded and on his first job. Farrell, ironically, seems to be coming directly off his performance in Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, where he was a reluctant killer. Here, his dumb Irishman persona hides an intelligent, working class guy who understands the difference between right and wrong. Even as a contract assassin, that difference is huge. And it's what the film, ultimately, is about.
That something went wrong with the original job is never in question. We can infer, through McDonagh's clever dialogue, that hiding out in Bruges is not standard operating procedure, no matter how much Ken insists there is nothing out of the ordinary. He suggests they enjoy the peace before the storm his experience tells him will be coming shortly. Ray, though, is anxious and bored. He is youthful inexperience personified and so gets himself into trouble by refusing to let things alone.
By the time Harry does contact them, we've gotten a pretty good idea of what's going on and what's coming. It's a credit to McDonagh as a director that he keeps the action moving, never letting the fact his audience knows what's coming interfere with his story-telling. It is not so much about the destination, here, as it is the journey. When Harry is forced to come to Bruges himself, to solve the problem and get things back to normal, all of the pieces of this Shakespearian-style tragedy are in place for an ending which is both moral and unavoidable.
As the film comes to its logical conclusion, we in the audience are left with many questions and topics for discussion. In Bruges is a movie which will stay with you long after the lights come up. It will also be one people will be talking about well into the future.