There’s a certain thrill in discovering a film that feels like it was created specifically for you. It hasn’t, of course; let’s be honest, no one is that unique. But ultimately that doesn’t matter; those first ten minutes, where you discover something that reaches to the very core of you, stay in your memory long after the credits have rolled.
In Bruges is that film for me. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, it follows two hitmen who are told to lie low in the picturesque Belgian city after a job gone wrong. Naturally, they don’t succeed, and our heroes quickly find themselves tumbling down a rabbit hole of Cockney mobsters, arms dealers and racist dwarfs.
Inevitably both the premise and the delivery have been compared to Tarantino. And it’s true, In Bruges shares much of what makes any great Tarantino film click; smart but meaningless dialogue, shocking violence and a metric fuckton of swearing. Yet where Tarantino is content to let his characters remain shallow paragons of cool, McDonagh insists on tearing them down in order to find the humanity that lies beneath. Not only is the film fiendishly funny in such a way that it forces laughter out of you even at the most absurd and innapropiate moments, it is also a suprisingly emotional tale of friendship and loyalty.
It helps that the hitmen are played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason, two of the best actors to come out of Ireland. Farrell plays Ray, a nervy, irritable rookie who masks his vulnerability by basically being a huge dick to everyone who meets. Gleason plays Ken, his world weary partner who just wants to see the sights. They’re a perfect duo, the kind who care about one another almost as much as they get on each other’s nerves. Their interractions remind anyone of that one best mate who you love and find immensely irritating almost in equal messure. Sure, none of us (I assume) are hitmen facing down an array of armed antagonists, yet all of us can relate to In Bruge due to the amusing and poignant portrayel of commradery.
Rounding out the leads is Ralph Fiennes as Harry, the angriest man in the world and Ray and Ken’s boss. Normally I would complain about the film industry’s determination to cast exceedingly posh actors as working class characters, but Fiennes is so hilariously mesmerising that it would be churlish. If you remember one thing from the film, it will be his apoplectic breakdown in front of his wife.
But what makes McDonagh a truly great writer is his ability to flit between outrageous dialogue and an exploration of the film’s deeper themes. One minute a character could be talking about the afterlife, and the possibility of forgiveness; the next he’ll be snorting cocaine with two hookers and a dwarf calling for race war. To witness him pull off such outrageous juxtapositions whilst ensuring they don’t feel jarring is a privilege. It can be heartfelt, funny, or shocking, but it’s always compelling.
In Bruges is not for everyone. Some might find it offensive, whilst others might find its musing on death and redemption pretentious rather than insightful. Yet to me, it is the perfect blend of blacker-than-black comedy, beautifully broken characters and, of course, the beautiful Belgian city of Bruges.
Illustration: Paula Convery