Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice. (2008, R, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 8, 2008
In his debut feature film, writer/director McDonagh (the acclaimed Irish playwright of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and others) seems to be telling us that life can be both as wretched and absurd as a Hieronymus Bosch painting (though I suspect Bosch would differ, having no distanced modern perspective on the solemnity and certainty of God's wrath). Two hitmen on vacation in the medieval Belgian town of Bruges have very different reactions to the Bosch painting they encounter there in this film that was the opening-night selection at last month's Sundance Film Festival. Ken (Gleeson) and Ray (Farrell) have been dispatched to Bruges by their boss, Harry (Fiennes), to lie low and wait for the heat to die down after they've botched a murder in London. The older Ken finds the ancient town calming and contemplative, while the younger and more antsy Ray regards it as a "shit hole." While waiting, like two figures out of Samuel Beckett for the phone call from Harry that's slow in coming, Ken is happy to sightsee and stroll about, but Ray needs something more to do to keep his mind off his guilt over the hit in London that went awry. A pretty girl who deals coke (Poésy) and a racist dwarf (Prentice) are some of the new companions with whom he passes the time. In Bruges is at its best when it's just passing the time. The idle dialogue is often priceless and Gleeson (playing against type) is a delight to watch as his big beefy face switches from brutish to benign (though Farrell seems to be generally coasting). Gleeson and Farrell have a nice chemistry, and their opposite body types make them appear to be a comic duo before even opening their mouths. When the action kicks in, however, In Bruges starts to go off the rails. The film's light comedy and dark morality make for an unsettling mix, as when the gentility of the centuries-old cobblestone street is spattered with the blood of a thuggishly detached limb. Certain scenes cry out for a prudent editor who might have shaped the film's aimlessness into something more focused. This gives the entire film an uneven feel and makes the action of the last third seem more ridiculous than it really is. Maybe it's just that the cycle of hitman film escapades is played out for the time being, but In Bruges might have been better off using a silencer.