In Bruges - A Review

‘In Bruges’ was my most anticipated film of 2008 and, having just seen it on DVD last night, it is now my favourite film of 2008.

So that’s good, isn’t it?

I crossed paths with the Writer/Director Martin McDonagh some years ago in London at the genesis of his stellar theatre career. The result is that I have followed his subsequent successes with an odd mix of almost-fraternal joy and raging jealousy which has bound me inextricably to his work every step of the way. I have found this to be motivational in my own writing efforts.

To have any kind of involvement with a writer who starts out struggling just like the rest of us and then to watch him place his feet on the launch pad and hit the stratosphere can be really inspiring, if you’re big enough to let it be.

I digress…

Martin McDonagh built his reputation in theatre with such fine plays as ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, ‘The Lonesome West’, ‘The Lieutenant of Inismore’, ‘The Cripple of Inismaan’ and ‘The Pillowman’. At the age of 27 he was the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays running simultaneously in London's West-End.

He went on to win the 2006 Oscar for best short film with ‘Six Shooter’ which he wrote and directed.

Now we have his first feature film ‘In Bruges’.

This an extremely black comic film which concerns itself with two Irish hit-men - Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson - who are sent to Bruges to lie low for two weeks after being involved in a botched killing.

One of the pair immediately falls for the charms of the Belgian city while the other hates it from the minute he sets foot in it.

Here’s my customary warning to the gentler of visitors to this blog. Although I loved this film, you may well not. It contains one of the highest quotients of foul language ever heard in any movie, it is highly-politically-incorrect – the characters express violent and racist opinions at regular intervals, the violence is graphic, sudden and disturbing.

So please, please, be warned.

I got into a little hot water here recently for proclaiming that ‘Pulp Fiction’ made me happy. Here I go again because this one made me pretty happy too. It’s not the violence or the language that does it for me though, it’s more the quality of story-telling, dialogue, characterisation and, in this case, the beautiful setting, the lovely soundtrack, the wonderful humour and the heart – the dark moral heart of this film.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this one (and I’ll come back to the trailer in a minute) then you may feel you know what to expect from it. But the actual movie is much more thoughtful and character-driven than the smarty-smarty trailer ever suggested. It is also quite a beautiful film in many ways – the director of photography has captured some lovely angles on a city which, with the exception of two or three scenes, is shown as being virtually deserted. The soundtrack is very sweet too, with one notable exception.

The story is very close to that of a famous Pinter play – if I were to tell you which one, that would constitute quite a large spoiler and I don’t like doing that – but it is interesting that Martin McDonagh, who looked so often to the cinema for his theatrical inspiration now seems to have sought out the theatre for his movie references. I think there is also some touches of ‘The Third Man’ in there but that could be just me.

Criticisms? I always try to find a little gripe or two, I think it’s constructive. Well, there are two sizeable coincidences which occur in the narrative – these always lessen the impact of a film for me. There is also quite a serious mis-use of the song ‘Raglan Row’ by Luke Kelly.

My main gripe however is reserved for the trailer. Remember I said I’d be back to it?

The trailer for this film gave far too much away. On account of the trailer, I knew certain things were going to happen even though the film tried its best to convince me they might not.

I wish I’d seen the movie before I’d seen the trailer.

So, I commend this one highly to you and I look forward to your thoughts on it. You know how I adore the dissenting voice so do please let me have it.

Oh yeah, even the little lady from the Hulk Queue in my previous post said this was her favourite movie of the year.

I think she mostly liked it on account of Colin Farrell though.

Perhaps that’s why she seemed to have been slightly hitting on me in the queue?

No, ‘didn’t think so.


Anonymous said...

Hmm.....I haven't seen this film yet, so have nothing really to add, other than I suspect I wouldn't like it due to the politically incorrect stuff and the violence, which sounds as though it was gratuitous.

I am curious though. Were the characters likeable at all, given their avocation, and their PI behavior?

Fiendish said...

I really have to see this film.

I suspect the reason I keep putting it off is because of the violence. Firstly, I just kind of dislike watching violence on any medium (and I'm not taking a moral-high-ground stance here, I promise, it just grosses me out). And secondly, I'm taking a moral-high-ground stance about it.

But seriously, I don't know what my opinion is on big-screen violence. I'm still thinking about it. I do know that I feel there's something wrong with franchises that just make money out of more or less plotless films featuring young women being tortured. But if I feel there's something morally suspect about that, where do you draw the line? Etc.

There's my quasi-philosophical ramblings for the day. Glad you enjoyed Florida :D (And I was away too so yes, I have tonnes to catch up on!)

Ken Armstrong said...

Actually, you've put your finger on it - they were all quite likeable, even the most dislikeable Ralph Feinnes. That's what I thought anyway.

Hi Fiendish, from the beach to the big smoke, I hear, look forward to catching up with you on your return.

Enjoy it all.

Oh and I know how you feel about violence - it didn't seem gratuitous here to me but I'm kind of immune to it at this stage.

Anonymous said...

Haven't heard of this movie myself. And I was going to check out the trailer but after what you said about how it gave too much away... I won't. I loved Pulp Fiction too, might have to check this out :) Cheers Ken!

Jim Murdoch said...

I've not seen the film but I have seen the trailer and Pinteresque is not the first word that jumped to my mind. You have piqued my interest, sir.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

I was sort of iffy on seeing this - the Bloke went to rent it last week, but for some reason its release in the North is later than in the South, so Xtravision didn't have it yet. And at the time, I wasn't planning to see it.
But as has happened before, your review has convinced me, Ken.
Pulp Fiction is a film that makes me happy too, by the way, for reasons I can't actually explain.

Fiendish - I don't generally watch films which have a lot of violence just because. They don't interest me. Sex likewise, actually. But if the violence or sex furthers the story, or perhaps is the story, then I'll give it a try.

Chat Blanc said...

I haven't seen this film, but now I'm very intrigued. It's officially on my list to see. Thanks! :)

hope said...

Too many trailers give the best parts of movies away, making viewers think there's more where that came from when in fact, it WAS the best part. I've seen trailers that turned out to be much more enjoyable than the whole movie.

I'd been contemplating this one, now I might have to actually watch it.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Hey Ken, I've never heard of this film. Is it released in the States? the Kill Bills made me happy...such awesome poetry! I think I'd enjoy this film for the same reasons.

hope said...

matthew, I haven't seen it advertised here in the States, but it was on the list of new releases where I buy DVDs for the nursing home aunt.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Thanks Hope! Very strangely, IN Bruges also showed up as a recommendation on Netflix, so I ordered it. Should have it delivered early next week.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the restaurant business. I had a similar incident while trying to open my first split of champagne. The celebrating couple was not happy! Thanks for another well written tale of life's little adventures.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim: It's not really Pinteresque - it's just that the story is strongly reminiscent of a HP play as it develops (no... not Harry Potter)

Catherine: I think you'll like it, do please let me know

Matt: This made a big splash at Sundance this year and did fairly well Stateside is a small Indie sort of a way. I'll be interested to hear with you think. I was thinking of you last evening while watching 'Muriel's Wedding' on BBC - lots of ABBA songs in that one!

I agree Hope, the trailer for this one is actually quite good - watch it after the movie. :)

Matthew S. Urdan said...


You know, a funny thing happens once people get to know me....any reference to ABBA that pops up, any reference to whitewater rafting that pops up, any reference to Michigan that pops up--most soon learn to associate these things with me.

I wonder why that is. ;)

Nutraceutical10 said...

Ken, sorry about not returning the drop, I spent the last few days moving. I saw "In Bruges" and it was interesting to watch him act without his fake, but quite impressive 'American' accent. I also really enjoyed watching "Cassandra's Dream." If you haven't seen that film yet, it's definitely worth watching.



Matthew S. Urdan said...

Well I saw In Bruges. I thought it was okay...It's not on any kind of par with the Kill Bills or even Pulp Fiction. It does have it's moments, though. I love the political incorrectness: the fat american tourists climbing the bell tower being called elephants, the midgets, the idiot in the restaurant in the smoking section complaining about smoke being blown on him.

There are a lot of things that happen in the movie though that I just don't understand or think they don't hold together--the hotel owner's lack of fear of Harry, the coinicidences on the train as Colin Farrell is leaving Bruges being arrested, and some other minor stuff.

What would have worked for me, since Mad Eye Moody--Brendan Gleeson--when he first appeared on the Bell Tower faked shooting or picking off passerby below--if when Harry was running down the stairs to get Colin Farrell, if he had shot him--that would have worked, but the fact that he chose to fall off the top, and then remained a live for several minutes after that huge blood splat--no way.

There were just some non-poetic flaws and plausability flaws that just were kind of too-in your face to ignore with the storytelling.

Over all it was an interesting movie, but I wouldn't put it up there with best film of the year--I think that belongs to the Dark Knight and Iron Man and probably the new Harry Potter being released in November and In Bruges is somewhere down in the top third of the pack.


Darren said...

Oddly, I think I watched this film for the first time the same night you did. I got it at a present and didn't really know what to expect.

I loved it. The comedy and the violence were beautifully counteracted by the emotion stirred primarily by Gleeson. It has an ending that shocks, makes you cry and uplifts all at the same time.

Rachel Fox said...

We watched this last night so I came back to read your take on it.

First off it was different to other films and for me that is a real plus - I hate watching films that are just like something else.

Colin F was very funny in it - in fact all the acting was good. The swearing was hilarious! The screenplay was good. The city looked beautiful. I liked the nearly suicide scene.

But I agree with above somewhere...the body on the tarmac at the end kind of spoiled didn't need him to keep talking. Likewise with Farrell at the many bullets and he's still walking about? I know it wasn't big on realism but that kind of turned it silly at the end and left a kind of disappointed taste after what was really a very good film.

Ken Armstrong said...

Rachel: Thanks for thinking to come back. I really appreciate that. It's going to be interesting next Sunday when Martin wins the Oscar for best original screenplay and Simon wins his own for best adapted screenplay. The three of us share a little history - and I will be the one with no statue. (sigh) always the bridesmaid... :)

Rachel Fox said...

Your time will come. I'm sure you can do it.