Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hapless
hitmen hiding out "In Bruges"
© 2008 Focus Features

In Bruges

(Reviewed January 30, 2008, by James Dawson)

Although it's being marketed as a "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"-ish high-caliber comedy, there's a lot more to "In Bruges" than Brit-wit, black humor and awkwardly amusing gunplay. "In Bruges" manages to add regret, remorse and even a little romance to that recipe, resulting in a movie that I'm sure will be on my 10 best of 2008 list, even though I'm writing this review in January.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are two Irish hitmen sent to cool their heels in Bruges, Belgium, by their extremely intense boss (Ralph Fiennes) after a botched job. Although the older and easygoingly placid Gleeson actually enjoys the quiet pleasures of sightseeing in the historic city while awaiting their next assignment, Farrell is a jumpy Dubliner who thinks that only someone retarded who grew up on a farm could find anything about the place interesting.

Farrell doesn't see any reason to climb a medieval bell tower just to get a better view of what's at eye level, he is thoroughly bored by most of what's on display at an art museum, and he can't even be bothered to stand in line with Gleeson for the chance to touch a vial of what's supposed to be the blood of Jesus Christ himself at an ancient church. Hard guy to impress.

What starts out as a story about an odd couple of fish out of water, however, quickly turns both odder and yet more human. For all of his hilariously deadpan putdowns and hair-trigger tough-guy attitude, Farrell turns out to be a killer with a conscience, and one with genuine worries about his immortal soul.

Coincidentally, Farrell plays a somewhat similar conscience-stricken killer role in the just released and not-very-good Woody Allen movie "Cassandra's Dream"—but this time he gets the character right. Where his performance in "Cassandra's Dream" appeared under-rehearsed to the point of offhanded distraction, Farrell is thoroughly convincing and consistently interesting here.

Gleeson is likewise excellent in his less-flashy role as the world-weary "sensible" half of the duo, who displays Oliver-Hardy-like frustration, resigned despair and an almost fatherly affection. And Fiennes perfectly pulls off his part as a vicious cockney sociopath family man, one whose set of standards must be upheld at all costs. A race-war prophesizing dwarf, a pregnant hotel manager, a drug-dealing blond local with a heart of gold, an effete gun dealer with a fondness for the word "alcoves," and even an officious ticket-taker at the bell tower all are incredibly fun to watch.

This is one of those rare movies that I liked so much I don't want to give too much of the plot away. First-time feature director/screenwriter Martin McDonagh (winner of the 2006 live-action short film Oscar for "Six Shooter," which starred Gleeson) has crafted a story with so many big-and-small laughs, outrageously inappropriate conversations, fascinating characters, shocking brutality and yet moments of genuine heart-wrenching pathos that the viewing experience is akin to watching one of those jugglers who manages to keep several objects of wildly varying shapes and sizes in the air with no trouble whatsoever. There's not a single misstep along the way.

(Also, in case you wondered, "Bruges" is pronounced "broozh." Hey, I didn't know that either, until I saw the movie. I blame my American education...)

Back Row Reviews Grade: A