Cast brings credibility to Martin McDonagh’s directorial debut
A couple of professional killers have been sent to the old town of Bruges in Belgium, ostensibly to hide out in the aftermath of a successful hit that has taken an unexpected toll. The older one (Brendan Gleeson) is much taken with the religious history and medieval glories of the old city.
However, nothing about Bruges interests Ray (Colin Farrell) at all until he encounters some distinctly contemporary sights that he deems irresistible—namely, a streetwise blonde (Clémence Poésy) and, no less crucially, a film crew shooting a street scene with a dwarf (Jordan Prentice) in it. Indeed, Ray’s sudden fascination ("They’re filming midgets!") advances the sardonic edges in the film’s comedy of generational gaps while also hinting at dimensions of twisted religiosity and spirituality yet to come.
Ray, as it turns out, is the most intriguing aspect of In Bruges, partly for his conflicted mixture of cluelessness and dawning moral awareness and partly out of Farrell’s charming way with both the comic pathos and the thuggish naïveté of the character. And conflicted mixtures of several sorts are everywhere present in this gleefully erratic comedy-drama, which marks the feature-film debut of playwright Martin McDonagh as a writer-director.
While McDonagh’s attempt to mix comedy and film noir is also a point of considerable interest, the actual playing-out achieves only a rather lumpy muddle from the dual impulses toward raucous irreverence and an almost sanctimonious seriousness.
Nevertheless, Farrell and Gleeson both bring credibility and a good deal of ongoing vitality to McDonagh’s not entirely credible premises, and Ralph Fiennes (whose onscreen arrival is delayed, pungently, until the second half of the film) adds some irony and panache. Prentice’s Jimmy, cavorting with whores and zonked on horse tranquillizers, makes an appropriately dour contribution to McDonagh’s comedy of political incorrectness, avoiding all sentiment but never losing his dignity.
Poésy, more or less fresh from the world of the Harry Potter films, also maintains her dignity but is otherwise merely stuck in the role of Chloë, a part that calls for a perhaps impossible combination of conventional romantic interest and McDonagh-style double-dealing.
Ciarán Hinds, an Irish actor on a par with the film’s stars, has a small but crucial role—a priest who is gunned down in the confessional, by the guy who is in the process of confessing the act he is about to commit. Hinds’ moment is very brief and it comes early in the film, but he is a great choice for a scene (a flashback) that puts a cutting edge on the film’s flailing mix of travesty and outrage, which inevitably haunts the rest of the film.
That flashback, unfortunately, is also merely the first step in the process by which the film transports itself from deceptively giddy comic irony to extravagant and hysterical melodrama on the subjects of murder and suicide.