Belgium, Brendan Gleeson, Bruges, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Farrell, Irish actors, movie reviews, Ralph Fiennes
Ciarán Hinds is in this film, but it’s a very short scene, an uncredited cameo. I knew it starred Colin Farrell as a not-very-bright hit man, and I assumed it was yet another action flick glorifying gangsters, guns and violence. And so it fell to the Long-Suffering Husband to watch In Bruges on his own. Although he recommended it highly, I still had no plans to see it until he informed me that Mr. H. did not, as I mistakenly believed, die in the first five minutes. After that, I decided to see the mise en scène for myself.
A few spoilers
In Bruges turns out to be a well-constructed exploration of what happens if you f*** up really bad, and commit a crime that is truly beyond the pale. Is there any hope for redemption, or are you condemned to spend the rest of your life… in Bruges? One of the film’s recurring jokes is that Colin Farrell’s hit man Ray utterly detests the charming city of Bruges, where he has been sent for a respite after a bungled job. What he doesn’t realize is that he would be just as miserable anywhere, given the horror and remorse he feels at having killed an innocent little boy at his prayers. (That he also murdered a priest is no problem whatsoever.)
Ray’s fate is disputed by light and dark angels. Improbably, the advocate for redemption is his fellow hit man Ken, a seasoned expert who has accepted his lot in life, and usually performs his heinous work with equanimity. When his boss Harry decrees that Ray must pay the price for being a child-killer, Ken initially agrees to do the deed. Yet he changes his mind at the last moment, when he sees Ray put a gun to his own head. Ken suddenly understands that Ray can be redeemed, and he risks the wrath of Harry to help his feckless friend.
Colin Farrell is disturbingly convincing as the puerile dimwit Ray. There’s a subplot involving a dwarf (Jordan Prentice), an actor in a local film production. Ray seems obsessed with Jimmy the dwarf (whom he insists on calling a “midget”) and with the likelihood that Jimmy will commit suicide because his size keeps him isolated from the rest of humanity. It’s a potent if twisted metaphor for Ray’s own predicament.
Brendan Gleeson is quietly impressive as Ken, a thoughtful assassin who sets out to educate himself about medieval Bruges. It says something for McDonagh’s storytelling prowess and Gleeson’s acting that together they are able to make you feel sympathetic toward Ken, even admire him. The writing for Ken’s part in the latter half of the film is particularly sharp, with some unexpected twists.
Most riveting and hilarious of all is Ralph Fiennes as Harry, the hot-tempered Cockney gangster who orders Ray’s death. Fiennes’ accent has to be heard to be believed, but imagine him gently chiding a thug who complains that Ray has blinded him:
Up to the point where Harry enters the tale, it is realistic enough. The profound sadness of Ray and Ken’s crime is contrasted with the bathetic comedy of their being forced to share a hotel room and getting on each other’s nerves. But Harry, it turns out, is an improbably romantic thug. After the botched hit, he sends Ray and Ken to Bruges in the misguided hope that Ray will enjoy a “fairytale” vacation before his permanent exit (and he’s amusingly furious when Ray reviles his favorite city). Like a comic Vito Corleone, Harry has his own, inflexible code of honor, which doesn’t permit the killing of children. His face-off with Ken, his friend and disobedient henchman, is both terrifying and amusing, as both men accept the terms of their absurd contest.
I won’t give away the end. This film is worth watching despite the considerable violence it depicts. If nothing else, you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of Bruges, Harry’s paradise and Ray’s hellhole. Bruges, it seems, is a state of mind.
I remember watching – a liking – this film immensely. Despite its dark and absurd humour and the violence that verged on the gratuitous. My two companions at the time were scathing in their derision of the film.
I liked it much more than I expected to, given the level of violence. But McDonagh is a talent to be reckoned with. I was surprised to observe a Christian subtext in this film, in the broad sense that themes of redemption and self-sacrifice were in play. I often see this religious subtext in the work of contemporary Irish playwrights. Not that they are religious themselves, but they use the themes in their work.
I suspect, Irish playwrights just can’t escape that kind of theme. Whether they are lapsed Catholics, Protestants or not – the contemporary playwrights of today grew up in a society that was still in the grip of the (Catholic) church, as was education… It’ll be interesting to see whether that will continue in the next generations of playwrights!
Yes, this seems like a significant time in Irish history when the grip of the church is loosening. I expect that to have a big cultural impact.
i/we saw(r) this “back when” and your synopsis joggles my me(s)mory appropriately, i think. yeah, the brendan character did seem to want to “get into it” (enjoying? Bruges) whereas Fienes character was, to say the least, un-hinged ~
Unhinged is a good description! Fiennes was also hilarious in this role, a real pleasure to watch.
Sylvie G said:
I loved that film, despite the violence 🙂
Me too. It shows that good acting and writing can outweigh subject matter which one would ordinarily shun. But I’d love it if Martin McDonagh wrote about something other than violence. Maybe a rather acerbic romantic comedy, LOL. Not likely…
Sylvie G said:
The acting was wonderful too, I thought
Yes, Colin convinced me he was an idiot 🙂
Meghan Masterson said:
This is one of my favourite movies, loved reading this post!
That’s great! I’m so glad you enjoyed the review.
I watched this movie AFTER I had visited and fallen in love with Bruges. Big mistake, as I found myself irrationally angry with Ray for hating Bruges. 🙂
LOL. I really want to visit Bruges now. What I saw of it looked like Amsterdam, but smaller and more charming. I was irritated with Ray too, because I would be just like Ken–trotting around with my guidebook 🙂
It ranks among my top 5 cities in the world. Way more Gothic than Amsterdam. It’s simply magical, Linnet! Def recommend!
Wow, you have really piqued my interest. The closest I have come to Belgium in the past was Lille in France, and it didn’t have that look, though the cuisine was very Belgian, with more focus on beer than wine. In the movie, Bruges looks quite “Dutch” with its canals and townhouses. Too bad they didn’t show more of the churches.
In fairness, I’m not sure what the greater Bruges area looks like. We stayed in old Bruges, the fortified part of the city. It seriously looks as though it was frozen in time in the 1300s, abd hasn’t been touched since. Giant weeping willows drooping over the canals, Gothic buildings, amazing food and beer. Totally stole my heart.
Oh, you got me with the weeping willows!