‘Maybe that’s what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.’ – In Bruges (Blu-Ray Review)

Rating:

In Bruges always struck me as a film that skirts delicately on a cliff’s edge. On one hand, it’s an unfiltered, unapologetic and brutal character study. On the other, reined in before the assumed and inevitable cliff dive (which could have happened), it is a dark humoured, complicated and conflicted allegory to life, wrapped up as the most unconventional tourist advert. And if there’s a common theme in director Martin McDonagh’s films, however uncomfortable the journey, you can’t escape your past. At some point, the consequences have to be reckoned with.

Before the Oscar success with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, In Bruges remains the most untypical and eccentrically-driven gangster films. Unlike Goodfellas, Casino or Scarface where the glitz and glamour are hardcoded in its DNA, In Bruges is not interested in the luxury. Often, it is deliberately off-kilter, unspectacular and at war with itself. But eventually, it comes as no surprise why McDonagh’s debut film has taken a life of its own. Inspired by a real-life trip to Bruges where McDonagh was at odds with the medieval, gothic beauty of the city and the complete sense of boredom, that mutual feeling was channelled into the characters of Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), the Irish ‘Odd Couple’ hitmen hiding out in the Belgium city after a botched job. The perspective is fresh, but the character-driven hilarity that follows is genius.

Generational experience versus youthful immaturity, Farrell and Gleeson have a comedic romp as a double act. Between their witty, foul-mouthed exchanges and their sinful multitudes, Ken embraces the trip like a cultured tourist whereas Ray is the unhinged swear box where his petulant distaste for Bruges is channelled into his reactionary insults and rage.  And for two-thirds of the film as they wait for further instructions from their crime boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), the direction blurs between a sightseeing adventure (with all of its picturesque signature shots) and characters trapped within the limited rigours of the city.

In some ways, the trailers and the marketing didn’t do the film justice when it was first released in 2008.  There’s a human cost to everything, and McDonagh’s brazen fearlessness unexpectedly conveys more than the graphical violence we usually associate. Because when it’s not a long-running joke, In Bruges does extend itself as an examination on purgatory, judgement and redemption. Always treading a thin, balanced line, this is a film where heroes are absent, and it works because of that. Its highest respect is found in its microscopic evaluation where life is provocatively messy, un-fairy tale and blurred, right down to Carter Burwell’s melancholic and sombre score. Ray is emotionally distraught and guilt-ridden, verging on the brink of suicide. Ken is a seasoned-pro who continually reconciles with the fact that he has murdered people. Harry has a strict mode of principles, which comes full circle towards the end.  Humanity is both ugly and profound, riding together on the same flawed, imperfect and judgemental rollercoaster, and instead of separation (as most films opt to do), In Bruges embraces its myriad of views on morality unequivocally, regardless of your natural empathy for the characters.

If it offers any sign of hope amongst the bleakness, then it’s found in Marie (Thekla Reuten), the pregnant hotel manager where her incoming child could have a better future than the contrasting trio. But just like the film’s ending where it ventures into the surreal and ambiguous, life is unknown, but it’s a trademark that features heavily throughout McDonagh’s work, including the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter (which has been given the HD treatment thanks to the limited edition blu-ray). The ‘what happens next’ cliffhanger in each scenario is always left to the audience’s imagination.

As a career-best, Colin Farrell is the notable standout, wrestling with the dual personality of his consciousness between the idiosyncratic, un-PC outbursts and the overwhelming vulnerability of grief.  But Gleeson’s father figure humility as Ken is the nuanced show stealer, a performance that gets better on repeated viewings. Ralph Fiennes as the impulsively foul-mouthed Harry regularly breaks up any predictability within the film, ramping up the madness with a brilliant cat and mouse chase for the film’s climax.

In Bruges may not be for everyone, encapsulated by its polarising elements, but it’s also a film that wouldn’t work if it was set somewhere traditional and recognisably iconic such as London for example, where it has taken on the bestowed honour for blockbuster destruction in movies.  As low key as it is, Bruges as a city is a character within itself, functioning as an escalating epicentre of dramatic and violent extremes. For McDonagh to fashionably incorporate the brilliantly assembled cast with the beautiful city as an unexplored yet subverted adventure, cement In Bruges’ cult-like status as an underrated gem of modern cinema.

Dir: Martin McDonagh

Scr: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Thekla Reuten, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon and Ciarán Hinds

Prd: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Sarah Harvey

DOP: Eigil Bryld

Music: Carter Burwell

Country: UK/US

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 mins

In Bruges Limited Edition Blu-ray is released on 19th August

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