In Bruges (2008) – Review

In Bruges (2008)Poster.jpg

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Written by Martin McDonagh

Cast: Starring Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, Clémence Poésy, and Ralph Fiennes

Length: 1 hour and 47 minutes

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

MPAA Rating: R

Description from IMDB:
“Guilt-stricken after a job gone wrong, hitman Ray and his partner await orders from their ruthless boss in Bruges, Belgium, the last place in the world Ray wants to be.”

In Bruges is not your typical gangster film; two hit men are hiding out in the Belgian town of Bruges after Ray (Colin Farrell) botched a hit job. He and veteran hit man, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) try to lie low, but there is a problem: Ray absolutely hates Bruges. The two Irish killers represent their respective generations: Ken is part of the old guard and loves the history of the city, as does his boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), which is part of why he sent them there to hide. Ray would rather go out drinking and schmoozing which, at first, seems like an excuse to keep from being bored, but may have a more personal motivation. He meets Chloe (Clémence Poésy), a Belgian drug dealer, and Ken is soon tasked with righting Ray’s wrong doing; a task to which he does not look forward.

If you look closely, you can see the hatred in Ray’s eyes.

In Bruges is a story of being redeemed after a significant transgression; Ken is willing to let Ray go with a second chance after he sees how badly Ray feels about his actions. The complication in the hit is initially alluded to before being fully revealed. **Spoiler alert ** Ray was supposed to kill a priest, which he does successfully, but accidentally shoots a little boy in the middle of his prayers in the process. Staying in Bruges, surrounded by religious images and young families on holiday, reminds Ray of his mistake. All of these elements bring out the themes of morality, guilt, and grief as the killers try to reconcile their lifestyles.

The story of In Bruges is driven by the characters and all of them are three-dimensional and flawed – Ken struggles with his assignment and what it means for Ray, Harry has a family and code of “ethics” despite being a ruthless gangster, and Ray tries to be good in but is unable to reconcile his past. In spite of these inherent flaws, the characters in the film are like-able and quite funny. The timing is impeccable in the exchanges of dialogue between characters. Ray is childlike in that he has no filter, which leads to some ridiculous situations. There is a lot of foul language in the film, but not to the point that it is gratuitous (at least, not to this viewer). The amount of swearing lends credibility to these characters and, through that, In Bruges is able to ride the line of dark comedy and heavy subject matter well without making the tone seem muddled.

Still 2.jpg
Nothing like an Irish actor drinking a beer. Cheers.

The city of Bruges plays an integral part in the story, far more than the simple use as a setting. Being one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe, the architecture is inherently archaic and evokes thoughts of antiquity. The portions where Ken and Ray go sight-seeing highlight the incredible cinematography present in the film. In addition to the visuals of the movie, In Bruges makes use of a haunting soundtrack featuring a meandering piano melody that follows the characters throughout the movie.  There is also a sonic bookend in that the film begins and ends with a voice-over from Ray; these are the only times we hear him commenting on the story in retrospect, and this creates a comforting sense of structure in a story that is otherwise chaotic on the surface.

I first saw In Bruges in a Film Genres course that I took while in college; we watched it as part of the gangster film portion of the class and it soon became a favorite of mine. There is always something new to find each time you watch the film and the jokes continue to land without becoming stale. This definitely isn’t a movie for everyone given its difficult subject matter, but the way the story is executed and how it projects its message is something to admire. I maintain that it is can be considered a Christmas movie since its third act takes place on Christmas Eve (*cough* It’s a Wonderful Life *cough*); but, whether or not you want to watch it during the holidays, it is a wonderful viewing experience.

Verdict: 5 Rays complaining about Bruges out of 5

Recommended for: Adults, people who can understand Irish accents, fans of dark comedies, people with an aesthetic sensibility, those who don’t mind cursing, and fans of good cinema.

Not recommended for: Children, the easily offended, those who dislike cursing, people who don’t like watching a film more than once, those who can’t get over the fact that the guy who plays Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies plays a character named Harry, or people who can’t understand Irish accents.

The images featured in this post can be found through the hyperlinks below.
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27 thoughts on “In Bruges (2008) – Review

  1. I have watched this movie only once: at the very beginning of my degree with a friend of mine who was president of the Irish Society at my university. I tell you that because your last point “not recommended for people who can’t understand Irish accents” – I did understand maybe half of the movie. I am not a native speaker but I don’t think I ever struggled with understanding a movie as much as I did here. I really do have to rewatch this at some point because I does sound great.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, my professor gave our teacher’s assistant specific instructions NOT to turn on subtitles when we screened it, so I felt it was worth mentioning. I will also point out that Ken and Ray speak very quickly and often repeat each other, which is intentional.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There is just so much eye candy in the setting and some hidden references in the background for those able to look (the characters at the end of the film are modeled after those from the Bosch paintings that Ray and Ken are looking at earlier in the film. I just love when a director adds those little visual references and Easter eggs!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I first saw this in college, too, during a screenwriting class taught by a member of the Academy. She maintained that the film is, by far, one of the tightest scripts she’s ever seen. Like you said, there’s definitely a lot of layers and style. Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love this movie! I think I’m due a rewatch. I chose it at random on Netflix a few years back, not expecting all that much, and was really blown away.

    I also really enjoyed Martin McDonagh’s second movie, Seven Psychopaths. It’s not quite on the same level, but still very good, funny and dark. It has a scene with Tom Waits too, so what more could you want?

    Excited to watch his latest from last year. Very interesting director.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I had a very interesting experience with this movie. When it came out in theaters, the trailers tried to sell it as a hard and fast action movie, with a fair amount of bumbling and “human” comedy mixed in. Ironically I was reluctant to go to see “that” movie, but after getting past the initial confusion, and realizing that the trailers had misrepresented, I actually grew to enjoy the film.
    The added element of how it had been misrepresented added a criticism of “American action focused storytelling” to the whole experience.
    In general I prefer to know very little about a story before engaging it, but this was the first time my preconceptions were so far off the mark, and that made for a very unique experience.

    I really enjoyed the back and forth between the two protagonists; one embracing the beauty of their surroundings, while the other could only feel deep frustration at what was missing.

    I also thought it was interesting how they used a subplot of “a film being made in Bruge at the same time” to further engage in some interesting dialogues about real and fake, and how people often construct these artificial “rules” and “lines” that create a type of order for them.

    Thank you for sharing. This was a fun trip down memory lane.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. When I looked up pictures for the post and found that dvd cover with the silly tag line, I realized how different that makes the movie sound from what it really is. There are so many layers and thematic elements in the movie that calling it an action movie truly sells it short. It’s a very human story with damaged characters trying to make sense of a messy world.

      I think Ray’s initial dislike of Bruges is compounded by the fact that here he is complaining about where he is, and there is a little boy who longer exists because of him. He is truly being crushed by what happened and everything seems to serve as a reminder of his actions. I think it is incredibly poignant and heightens the dynamic between him and Ken.

      Thank you for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment! I’m glad I could oblige.

      Liked by 1 person

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