Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell, and Brendan Gleeson in In Bruges (2008)


(director/writer: Martin McDonagh; cinematographer: Eigil Bryld; editor: Jon Gregory; music: Carter Burwell; cast: Colin Farrell (Ray), Brendan Gleeson (Ken), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Waters), Clémence Poésy (Chloë), Jérémie Rénier (Eirik), Peter Dinklage (Dwarf Actor), Eric Godon (Yuri), Thekla Reuten (Marie), Zeljko Ivanek (Canadian Guy), Mark Donovan (Overweight Man), Ciaran Hinds (Priest); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Graham Broadbent/Pete Czernin; Focus Features; 2008-UK/Belgium-in English)

“The unbelievable sensitive hit men trifle might have worked if it was just a travelogue about the Belgian Flemish fairy tale medieval city of Bruges.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The unbelievable sensitive hit men trifle might have worked if it was just a travelogue about the Belgian Flemish fairytale medieval city of Bruges, but it stinks to high heaven as a gangster spoof, a slick Pulp Fiction imitation, a gory shoot-’em up or as a ridiculously obscene morality tale about honoring the criminal code of honor. The chatty film cannot be salvaged by its lame jokes about Bruges being a shithole, lame jokes about crass fat Americans, its baffling nonsensical dialogue over a race war, its abundance of crude dwarf jokes, or its devilish attempt to come up with a clever plot by going over-the-top in its ridiculous climactic shoot-out. This is the debut directorial and writing effort for Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (2006 Oscar-winner for the short-film Six Shooter), who shows his inadequacies as both a filmmaker and a writer by making everything but the setting seem phony (those three climactic dying scenes are about as badly done as any I have ever encountered in a film).

The colorful hit men, the antsy and cocky young gun Ray (Colin Farrell) and the calm veteran Ken (Brendan Gleeson), have come to the Belgian tourist town of Bruges on the mysterious orders from their hot-headed and foul-mouthed East-End boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who fails to tell them why they are there but to just wait for his call at night and lay low. Ken gets into the tourist spirit of the city by sightseeing its canals, churches, cobblestone streets and taking in Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment, while Ray complains he won’t make it in this shithole through the two weeks they’ve been registered there by Harry. But Ray manages to make the best of things when he picks up local looker Chloe (Clemence Poesy), who is dealing drugs while working with a weirdo American dwarf (Peter Dinklage) in a minor film being shot on location.

Whatever charms the film might have had due to its quirky dialogue quickly evaporate due to its leaden pace and when we learn that the remainder of the film concerns Ray’s angst that he botched his previous job when he accidentally killed an innocent child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the contract hit on a priest in a confession box. We’re left to figure out what Harry has in mind for the suicidal young gun, how Ken will react to his next contract being the kid and what will happen to a repentant Ray. The problem is I couldn’t care less what happens to the craven dimwit Ray or the sociopath Harry or sentimental professional killer Ken, but I found Ray becoming increasingly irksome as he goes on a rant that he doesn’t give a shit if he killed the priest but really feels bad about the kid.

This absurd crime film hit me in the wrong absurd places, as it only left me wanting to see more of Bruges without these sordid characters being around as the Ugly Tourists.