© 2008 Ray Wong
"Shoot first; Sightsee later" is the tagline for In Bruges. In a way, the film is a promotion for in Bruges, Belgium, packaged in a quirky, comedic thriller.
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are first-time visitors to Bruges, a picturesque old Belgian town. While Ken is fascinated by the history of the place and tries to enjoy himself, Ray clearly doesn't want to be there at all. He just wants to go back to London. The problem is, he can't. And the fact is, they're both hit-men on the run. We later learn that, on his first hit job, Ray accidentally killed a young child.
Wallowing in guilt and self-pity, Ray is a complete mess. Ken somehow takes Ray in and treat him like a son he never had. One evening, they stumble onto a film set, and Ray meets Chloë, a cute production assistant. Ray's interest level in the city changes as he becomes enamored of Chloë. All is well until Ken receives a phone call from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). It seems that Ray and Ken aren't sent to Bruges for sightseeing after all.
Colin Farrell (Miami Vice) is an interesting actor who tends to take on unconventional leading-man parts. As Ray, he shows a lot of vulnerability, charm and humor. However, his character isn't necessarily likable. He's coarse, crude, ignorant, and whiny. After a while, his self-pitying portrayal kind of gets on my nerves. In contrast, Brendan Gleeson (Beowulf) is calm, mature, fatherly and just as charming in different way. Gleeson plays the role well enough and makes us care for him, and by proxy makes us care for Ray as well. Gleeson and Farrell do very well playing off of each other -- one that feel that their relationship is genuine.
The rest of the quirky cast includes Ralph Fiennes (Bernard and Doris) as the hot-tempered boss with a strange way of looking at things; he plays the role with good, creepy intensity. Eric Godon (Nothing Sacred) is subtly funny as a somewhat fey but wise "weapon guy." Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is interesting as Ray's object of affection, who actually is hiding a secret. Jordan Prentice (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) plays a self-aborbed American actor who is also a dwarf. Finally, Thekla Reuten (Lost) leaves an impression as the headstrong innkeeper.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh's (Six Shooters) script reminds me of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The characters are rather colorful and diverse, and the plot has an absurdity to it. Not to mention the wisecracking dialogue and witty interplay between the characters. It all sounds very good on paper. But in practice, the plot moves so slowly that at times it's like watching paint dry. At 107 minutes, it feels like 200. Between the funny scenes and action, there are often a long null in which the characters don't really do anything. It gets particularly tiring as Collin Farrell continues to act depressed and irritated.
Also, quirky for quirky's sake doesn't always work. The colorful characters are interesting, and there are many interesting moments, but the plot does get too implausible and too bizarre, especially when there's no clear motivation on the characters' part. I mean, one minute one character is trying to kill another, and then the next thing you know they're having a heart to heart chat. It's hard to sustain my disbelief.
McDonagh does have an good eye. Bruges looks picture-book cute in the film, and McDonagh makes very good use of the locations. It's not to say the setting is itself a character, however; it's merely a location. Still, there are some really nice imageries and the mood is right. I really the romantic undertone despite all the blood and violence, and the sense of absurdity is a nice tough. I just wish he hadn't gone overboard with the plot (especially the final plot twist -- it simply feels too deliberate and preordained), and the film could have been trimmed by 30 minutes.That way, we'd been more likely to be in stitches rather than in boredom.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Eric Godon, Clémence Poésy, Thekla Reuten, Jordan Prentice
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 6.1 out of 10