As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This usually isn’t at all indicative of their quality – sometimes, we’re just a little Late To The Party.
In Bruges is hailed as one of the greatest British comedies of recent times. Even so, I managed to somehow avoid watching it for 15 years. As comedy often moves with the times, there was an element of concern that it wouldn’t hold up. After all, the world has changed considerably since 2008.
Combining the talents of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, and writer/director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges is a decorated film. Despite being McDonagh’s feature debut, the screenplay won a BAFTA, and the film was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Certainly none too shabby in the awards department, then.
In Bruges follows two affable hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), after they’re sent to the Belgian town of Bruges by their boss, Harry (Fiennes). As they reluctantly immerse themselves in the local culture, it’s slowly revealed that they’re there after Ray botched a job and accidentally killed a child, and that Harry has plans for the pair. Unaware of the grisly jaws of fate closing in on him, Ray strikes up an unlikely romance even as he’s tortured by his own guilt.
In Bruges Perfectly Blends Comedy & Tragedy
From that synopsis, In Bruges certainly sounds like a pretty heavy film. However, it’s genuinely nothing of the sort: its comedy is so organic that the tone remains surprisingly light throughout. Some of the language used might not have aged well, but the general atmosphere is one of levity. There’s an existential vein of comedy running through the film, and it works exceptionally well.
To offset the film’s quirky sense of humor, there is an undeniable air of tragedy. Ray’s professional mishap and accidental murder of a child is addressed, with Ray himself postulating on the afterlife and morality on various occasions. These brief monologues are peppered with McDonagh’s colorful wit, allowing them to exist organically alongside In Bruges‘ less serious aspects.
Neat Writing & Solid Cast Make For A Modern Classic
For a comedy about two hitmen, In Bruges is, surprisingly, a movie with a hidden message about guilt with vague religious undertones. Ray’s difficulty living with his guilt drives him to a crisis point, and it’s Ken’s own compassion that ultimately brings him around. There’s guilt, sacrifice, repentance, and culpability; all ideas touched on by multiple religious ideologies. But, for all that, In Bruges is far more hopeful than one might expect, and it works remarkably well.
The film is bolstered by sound performances from its cast. Farrell’s performance is particularly note-perfect, something which helps bring In Bruges‘ depth to life. The chemistry between the two male leads is exceptional, and provides much of the comedy: Farrell’s wise-cracking works perfectly alongside Gleeson’s gruff earnestness, and Fiennes’ gangster chews the scenery in a way that sets it all off just right.
It’s no mean feat to balance comedy and tragedy, but In Bruges does it brilliantly. It’s a film that doesn’t shy away from deeper themes, but keeps solid story at its heart. It manages to mingle the thrilling with the mundane, and its darkness is offset by a pleasantly light-hearted air. It also holds up remarkably well after well over a decade, which is in itself an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Summary: In Bruges is a film of balance and quiet intelligence. It raises serious questions about moral responsibility and repentance, but it’s also rather a lot of fun.
Highlight: The entire third act is brilliantly written, with numerous plot threads coming together in the most satisfying way imaginable.