Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Elizabeth Berrington, Eric Godon, Anna Madeley
Audiences have seen it before, a paid hitman makes a blundering mistake that puts him in the crosshairs. That’s where the similarities end as In Bruges takes a darkly comic narrative and imbues it with human frailty and redemptive expression so that the viewer can empathize with someone engaged in a morally corrupt profession.
Two actors at the top of their games give In Bruges its core identity. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play experienced hitmen sent to Bruges to await orders from their unscrupulous boss played by Ralph Fiennes. As Farrell’s Ray descends into depression over his accidental murder of an innocent bystander, Gleeson’s Ken is assigned the difficult task of killing Ray for his indiscretion.
Farrell has never been better than he is in his fractured and introspective portrayal of young hitman Ray. Ray is frustrated, disjointed, and miserable, delving into his monstrous soul to rationalize his failures. As the stress of the event batters his heart, he finally has enough of it all and decides to do something about it.
As the more experienced Ken, Gleeson continues the fine work he’s been doing for years with In Bruges proving a terrific example. Conflicted between loyalty to Fiennes’ Harry and friendship for the young assassin who’s taking his last job poorly, Gleeson makes one catastrophic, but ennobling decision after another, risking wrath and retribution.
Fiennes delivers a journeyman performance as the vindictive boss of the film. He’s given some decent dialogue, but is expected to act as a balancing force against Ray and Ken. That balance comes in his desire for perfection and unswerving loyalty. Through his excess and villainy, Fiennes allows the humanity of Ray and the nobility of Ken to stand in stark contrast in spite of the horrendous line of work all three are working in.
In his feature debut, Martin McDonagh gives us a contemplative portrait of duty, recrimination, and guilt as characters who are seldom portrayed as anything but driven, are deconstructed into flawed individuals struggling to come to terms with their past misdeeds and going to extreme lengths to assuage their guilt while still finding a way to remain true to their core principles, no matter how ignoble they may be.
As critics, we complain a lot about the lack of originality in Hollywood and, even more recently, in indie cinema, but this is a prime example of where the niche market can find something credible, capable, and fascinating without reinventing the wheel. Yet, reinvent they do, taking familiar tropes and situations and turning them into introspective explorations. In Bruges is a darkly humorous film that should be seen not just for the way it subverts genre norms, but also for how it sculpts and redefines them into something better.
March 1, 2021