In Bruges (2008)
Ray: Do you think this is good?
Ken: Do I think what's good?
Ray: You know, going around in a boat, looking at stuff?
Ken: Yes, I do. It's called sight-seeing.
The beauty of Bruges, the city in Belgium, is that it is “the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium”, according to Ken (Brendan Gleeson) as he flips through his touristy books and maps. Ray (Colin Farrell) responds with the memorable line, “Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't.”
This aptly sums up the two distinct personalities of Ken and Ray, two hit-men hired to do a job that did not go according to plan. The two men are sent to the picturesque city of Bruges to wait for further instructions from their boss, Harry Waters, played wonderfully by (Ralph Fiennes). How much time they will have to wait is unknown (though 2 weeks in the same hotel room is probably a good guess) and so the two men proceed to pass the time in various ways and varying degrees of strangeness.
Director Martin McDonagh presents to us a complex film that, on the surface, you might think a fairly typical Hollywood plot. There is murder, drugs, sex, dark comedy, on-location shooting – all things you can find in any big-budget action flick. What In Bruges manages to do is to take all those components and weave them into a story about the human condition, a story told to us through the viewpoint of multiple and distinct characters, each with a set of ideals and thoughts and beliefs that may not agree with each other, but ultimately are strong enough to guide in each of the character’s convictions.
I found myself playing the role of tourist while watching this film, imagining myself climbing the towers or slowly coasting around canal corners. The scenery is breathtaking, no doubt, but it is the character driven film that makes this such a special project. Multiple supporting roles lend so much to the film that it takes some of the burden off the main two characters and allows us to remember that this is a real city with real people living real lives, even if we only get to see a glimpse of the not-so-proper ways of living.
Without giving away too much, for I found that knowing very little going in made this a special experience, it should be noted that whether you feel this is the story of Ken or of Ray, we are privy to so much from each that it ultimately doesn’t matter. Each has and will make his own decisions and accept the consequences, whatever they may be. Ultimately it is a story of convictions for these characters – What can you live with? And what is too much to carry?
This film received multiple award nominations and rightfully so. I was taken in by Gleeson’s portrayal of an introspective, mature hit-man, just as much as I was thrilled to see Farrell pull off a much more complex character than he is used to doing. Along with an American dwarf actor and local drug-selling beauty, In Bruges managed to pull off that rare ability to make me watch no less than 3 times since its release, with an emphasis on hardly being able to wait to go back for a 4th viewing.