In Bruges Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes and Clémence Poésy. An Odeon release. 107 minutes. Opens Friday (February 8). Rating: NNNN
We need another hit man flick like we need a hole in the head, so ignore the ads selling In Bruges as some sort of Tarantino-inspired serio-comic crime story.
True, it’s an absurdist noir about a pair of grim Laurel-and-Hardyish killers cooling their heels in the Bosch-like fairy-tale town of the title after a botched hit.
But there’s little gunplay, the soundtrack is 70s-free, and the only pop-culture riff in writer-director (and award-winning playwright) Martin McDonagh’s crackling Mametian dialogue is a reference to Hervé Villachaise.
In fact, our two gunmen – Brendan Gleeson as the sweet yet stern babysitter to Colin Farrell’s unravelling hothead – spend much of the movie sightseeing in the medieval Belgian town and pondering their respective fates.
Their bickering among the canals and churches of one of Europe’s oldest cities – at Christmastime, no less – is darkly, profanely funny. How often does a killer consult a tourist brochure to find a good place to whack somebody?
As Gleeson’s Ken falls under the spell of Bruges and turns philosophical, Farrell’s Ray becomes increasingly miserable and seeks out new ways to get into trouble. He falls for a petty grifter (Clémence Poésy), pisses off Canadian tourists and karate-chops a racist midget in the neck.
Ray’s obsession with midgets is a recurring theme, as though McDonagh wrote the script while watching David Lynch movies drunk on absinthe.
This might also explain the cruel streak coursing through the film’s slapstick centre and leading to a pitch-black confrontation involving Ken, Ray and their uptight London mob boss (Ralph Fiennes in his most twisted turn since Red Dragon).
In the end, this is Farrell’s film. Hollywood’s tried to mould him into a Guinness-loving Tom Cruise, yet his attempts at blockbuster leading man roles – in Alexander, say – have not been great. His forté, his niche, is playing likeable yet morally challenged losers, as he did so well in Phone Booth.
In terms of showing what Farrell is capable of as an actor and not just as a marquee name, In Bruges stands alongside The New World.
See an overview of Colin Farrell's hits and misses here.