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Movie Review: In Bruges

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson both turn in solid performances, in the feature film, In Bruges.

Notorious off-screen antics aside, Colin Farrell has had an interesting career, balancing big-budget studio fare with smaller, more meaningful independent films. Compare 2004’s problematic Alexander with his thoughtful performance in At Home at the End of the World that same year. In Bruges clearly has more in common with the latter, and proves once again that it’s the indie arena in which he does his best work.

In this film, Farrell takes on the character of Ray, a petulant manchild and wannabe hitman who is sent to the Belgian city of Bruges to await further instructions after his first job goes tragically awry in London. Accompanying him on the trip is Ken (Brendan Gleeson), a seasoned professional with a cooler head and an appreciation for the finer things in life.

For those unfamiliar with the nuances of European geography, Bruges (pronounced “broozh”) is the best-preserved medieval city in Belgium. A storybook collection of quaint buildings, canals, churches and cobblestone streets, it’s a lesser-known tourist destination and a peaceful getaway for travelers. This does not impress Ray, however, who pronounces it a “s***hole” from the moment they arrive and resists Ken’s every effort to expose him to the town’s history and culture. Their frequent bickering and trivial banter is the source of much of the humor in the film’s first act.

But to label this as a fish-out-of-water gangster comedy (as the marketing material seems to do) would be a bit of a disservice to the film and to the potential audience. Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (who serves as writer and director here) demonstrates his facility with language by giving the actors plenty of witty dialogue, which they deliver with pitch-perfect timing. That lighthearted tone doesn’t stand unchallenged, though. It is laced with flashes of dark melancholy and startling poignancy, often in stark juxtaposition with the humor, so the film never becomes too frothy or frivolous. One moment Ray is heckling some tourists in front of a church, the next he’s wrestling with his conscience over the unfortunate circumstances that brought him there.

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