Don't know where Bruges is? You're not alone, per the running joke in acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh's fun and foulmouthed black comedy that will likely put Colin Farrell back in our good graces.
"Don't get into any f--king trouble. We're keeping a low profile," Ken (Brendan Gleeson) warns fellow hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) when they arrive in Bruges (it's in Belgium, for those not familiar with the city named 2002's European Capital of Culture). And for good reason. Back home, Ray botched his first assignmentthe assassination of a priestby also accidentally killing a young boy. Now Ken and Ray are in hiding in Bruges on the orders of their volatile boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). At first, the glum and impatient Ray does as he's told as he accompanies Ken from one tourist attraction to the next. Ken can't wait to explore a city that's rich in history; Ray thinks he's in purgatory, which isn't too far from the truth, metaphorically speaking. But Ray soon cheers up when he wanders onto a film set and scores a date with Chloë (Clemence Poesy). Unfortunately, Ray should have heeded Ken's words, because Chloë brings with her nothing but trouble. By associating with Chloë, Ray soon finds himself at odds with her skinhead boyfriend (Jeremie Renier) and a little-person actor (Jordan Prentice) with a big appetite for drugs. Then comes the phone call Ken's been dreading from Harry. He's so pissed with Ray that he orders Ken to knock off his protégé between sightseeing excursions. Not that the reluctant Ken may have to even pull the trigger. Ray's feeling so guilty about what he's done that's he contemplating suicide
For someone who's spent the past few years toiling under some of Hollywood's most famous directors, Farrell hasn't had much to show for his efforts. And his career and reputation's suffered as a consequence. In Bruges, though, proves what we suspected all along: that the camera loves Farrell when he's in his element. Here he possesses a roguish charm and a classic Irish temperament that's befitting of his conflicted assassin. And he's damn funny. "They're filming midgets" isn't really indicative of the razor-sharp dialogue to be found in In Bruges, but Farrell blurts the line out with all the energy and enthusiasm of a kid who's just walked into Santa's workshop. He also does an admirable job of conveying the Catholic guilt that Ray feels for taking an innocent life (unlike his turn in Cassandra's Dream). More important, Farrell and Gleeson make for a classic odd couple. Writer-director Martin McDonagh mines much humor from their obvious differences, but you're left with no doubt that our antiheroes genuinely like each other. Accordingly, the calm and collected Gleeson possesses all the qualities of a father figure. Ken's quite often exasperated by Ray, but there's never a lack of fondness or concern to be found in Gleeson's performance. Fiennes' played many villains, but never for laughs. With his bad teeth and common-as-muck accent, the menacing Fiennes has a blast letting loose as the unhinged Harry. Poesy possesses a nice smile, but that's about it. The straight-faced Prentice, though, almost steals In Bruges as he gamely works with McDonagh to shatter many preconceived notions Hollywood harbors toward little people.
Yes, this is yet another darkly comic mediation on hit men enduring existential crisis brought on by their chosen profession. Yet McDonaghbest known as the playwright of The Lieutenant of Inishmoregets a kick out of toying with the conventions that have made this sub-genre of the buddy movie so tired. That's never more evident than during the bloody showdown between Farrell and Fiennes. How often does a foot chase come to a halt so someone can consult a map? Or that a warped sense of what's right or wrong would seal both characters' fates? Sending Ken and Ray to Bruges is a stroke of genius. Much is made of the fairy-tale quality of the city, so the violence that follows our fish out of water is in total contrast to the peace and quiet of their surroundings. That doesn't necessarily mean there's a "happily ever after" for all involved, as McDonagh foreshadows in a painting about Judgment Day that catches Ray's eye and a film within the film that hilariously pays homage to Don't Look Now. And while bullets don't quite fly as fast or frequently as the F-bomb is dropped, McDonagh makes sure that the brutality that Ray and Ken think they've left behind follows them to Bruges. He doesn't flinch in showing us that they are killers, and that their actions have sad, unintended consequences. That said, In Bruges is never more entertaining than when it takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to chronicling its morally dubious subjects' misadventures. So if you enjoyed last year's underappreicated You Kill Me, book yourself a return ticket to Bruges.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.