In Bruges

A few years back, there was a popular video on the net of a spoof trailer for The Shining, which, by re-cutting the scenes from the film and the addition of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, turned it from a chilling horror/thriller into a heart-warming family drama called simply "Shining". Why bring this up? Well, because, in many ways, walking out of the cinema having seen In Bruges, I couldn't help but feel that its trailers had gotten the same treatment - all of the material in the trailers did come from the film, but the trailer depicted a very different film to the one I had just watched. The trailers depicted a cheeky-chappy, Irish-type comedy with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson playing characters that wouldn't have been out of place in Intermission for example; but instead, what we got was a very, very dark film with a dark sense of humour and an ever darker conscience. What we got was so much more than the trailers could ever have hope to have captured.

In Bruges tells the story of two hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), lying low in Bruges (a marvellously preserved medieval city in Belgium) after a hit in London. Ken loves Bruges - the sights, the canals, the people. Ray compares the place to purgatory - endless waiting with nothing to do. Nothing, that is, except reflect on your past, and as we see, for Ray this is not a comfortable thing to do. And this is where the film deviates from the trailers. Heavily. For as we discover, Ray botched the hit (which we also discover was his first) and killed an innocent little boy, and since Ray is not an inhuman monster, this weighs very heavily on his mind, to the point where he cannot bare his own existence and tries to kill himself. Ken is having none of this, and tries to set Ray on a happier path.

The enormous irony here of course, is that the reason Ken and Ray’s boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), order the two men to Bruges is so Ray can have one last happy memory before Ken kills Ray for his mistake. This irony would be sweet enough in and of itself for most films, but here it is sweetened further by it’s culmination in a scene in which Ken approaches Ray from behind, gun in hand, ready to do the deed, only to see Ray raise a gun to his own head, prompting him to race in, take the gun and try to explain to Ray all the things he has to live for.

At its artistic core then, In Bruges is a film about redemption – Ray’s redemption for his killing of the boy (symbolised through his relationship with local drug-dealer and thief Chloë (Clémence Poésy); and Ken’s redemption for his life of crime through saving Ray’s life. Perhaps the most charming thing of all about In Bruges is the fact that it manages to do this and still manage to be a gut-wrenchingly funny (if not ridiculously dark) film.

Without doubt, one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time, this one earns an A+from me. Easily, Colin Farrell’s finest role to date, and a spectacular film debut for writer/director Martin McDonagh.

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