In Bruges (2008): “We shall strike a balance between culture and fun.”

in_bruges_ver2_xlgIt’s in Belgium. In Bruges (2008, dir. Martin McDonagh) is a black comedy starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and towards the end, Ralph Fiennes. It follows two Irish hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), as they’re sent on an assignment to Bruges by their gangster boss, Harry (Fiennes). Hilarity ensues as Ray and Ken explore the historic city and wait for further instructions from Harry, regarding who their next target is going to be.

I remember hearing lots of amazing things about this one when it first came out in 2008. “You have to see it,” someone says in my memory. “It’s soooo good.” I watched this one last night and didn’t enjoy it that much. The first half was sort of tedious for a number of reasons, and although the last twenty minutes to half hour was very good, it doesn’t really make up for the rest of it. Let me explain.

The acting in this film is universally good. I’m not too aware of Colin Farrell outside of this Family Guy clip, but I liked him in Seven Psychopaths (2012). I was pretty impressed by him in In Bruges as well, even though he does have a tendency to act with his eyebrows. He suits the comedic-slash-disturbed role well, particularly when it comes to his character’s backstory. Brendan Gleeson is good as Farrell’s stoic counterpart Ken, although he is mildly forgettable. I watched this with a big group of people and when we were watching the film, we referred to him as Mad Eye Moody because that’s his name in Harry Potter and we just couldn’t remember his actual name. Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as their sweary gangster boss. He has a filthy mouth and his acting is stellar. Plus I’m not sure if anyone else noticed this, but in this role he hardly blinks even once. That must have taken a lot of effort. Clémence Poésy also shines as Ray’s maybe-girlfriend Chloë, and is her usual charming self, even when selling drugs and robbing people.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of Harry Potter actors in this one. Ralph Fiennes, Voldemort; Brendan Gleeson, Mad Eye Moody; and Clémence Poésy, Fleur Delacour. Coincidence? Maybe.

This is a funny film. The jokes are solid, and are typically, British-ly, dark. It’s just that the story is slightly tedious. The first half of the film is the same concept over and over with a couple of backstory moments, which are the best parts. Ray and Ken are the perfect odd couple: Young Ray likes to go to the pub and meet the ladies, older Ken wants to see museums and religious artefacts. The moments where the story eludes tedium is where it escapes this dynamic. Unfortunately, much of the film focuses on Ray and Ken as a duo.

Film Title: In Bruges

However, there are some standout moments, such as any time little person Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), who prefers to be called a dwarf and not a midget, is on screen. He’s only a minor character but I enjoyed his scenes the most. The last twenty minutes to half hour is where the story picks up and becomes really compelling. Coincidentally, this is where Ralph Fiennes comes in. His character breaks the sleepiness of the rest of the film because he’s so different to Ray and Ken, and introduces a different dynamic between those two characters as well. I wonder if he had been in the film more, whether I would have enjoyed it more.

I read bits of the script of this one to see whether it’s a translation from-script-to-film issue, and I think it might be. When reading the script, the relationship between Ken and Ray is really interesting and witty. The characters jump off the page and the writing is funnier. Then again, maybe it’s an acting issue. Who knows.

For a film set in such a beautiful city, the cinematography does not highlight it at all. There are some scenes where Ray and Ken are looking around at some art and architecture, and the medieval streets of Bruges. But the film is shot in such a way that we can’t see much of it. I wonder if this was done intentionally so that we focus on the actors rather than the scenery, but I found myself wanting to see more since the characters kept talking about how beautiful Bruges is, and how it looks like a fairytale come to life. It’s all well and good to say that it’s beautiful, but let us see it! The fight scenes are shot well though, as are any moments where a dead person is on screen. Additionally, the music is great, and sets the tone well throughout.

Ultimately, this film was kind of disappointing. Even though I really liked the last twenty minutes to half an hour (wish I had a better time estimate on this, but it’s roughly from about the moment where Ralph Fiennes appears, to the end of the film), the rest of it just didn’t match up. Usually, with a film I’m not a fan of, I can praise the cinematography or art direction but I can’t even do this here. In Bruges had some laughs and some redeeming aspects, but overall, it’s just so-so. Although I would recommend it if you’re a fan of Ralph Fiennes, because this is some great work from him. I would also recommend it if you’re a fan of British-style dark humour, because there is plenty of that. If you have 107 minutes to spare in your day, it’s not a bad way to spend that time. Just don’t expect anything amazing.

2.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

46 comments

  1. I still haven’t seen this. Your tepid review doesn’t make me want to change that.

    1. I think you should watch it, I think it’s amazing

      1. I too LOVE this movie –

    2. I think my opinion is a little bit unique! It looks like everyone and their mum loves this except for me. Sadface.

  2. I’ve never seen the entire thing. I’ve actually started watching it on two different occasions but never latched onto it for some of the reasons you mentioned.

    Very nice review!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I was almost forced to latch on to it because I was watching it in a group. Although I was tempted to just go to sleep. I’m glad I stayed until the good part though.

  3. Great review. I liked this one more than Seven Psychopaths. Maybe the casting agent is a fan Harry Potter :).

    1. Thanks! You’re probably right, I bet the casting agent is a huge Harry Potter fan! 🙂

  4. Good review. I watched it when it first came out and found it funny but the second time I watched it (quite recently) I had the same experience that you did.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 That’s funny how your opinion changed. Maybe your true opinion formed after you got the laughs out of the way for the second viewing?

  5. Wow, going against the grain some what there Anna! In Bruges was a bit of a critical darling. I think it’s a good film myself!

    1. Haha! I’m starting to realise it’s a bit of an unpopular opinion! I did really like the last parts though. If I could give just the last 20-30 minutes their very own rating it would be 3.5/5! Ralph Fiennes is just too good.

  6. I actually loved this one. I found it really funny, but I always thought it was a bit of a marmite movie. Understand all your points. Good review.

    1. That’s funny, I’ve never heard the term Marmite movie before! But then I googled it. That’s the perfect description for this type of film. Planning on keeping that one for future use!

  7. Heh, yes everyone loved this film when it came out, but I’m with you. Didn’t really see what was so special. Good review.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Yeah, it’s good, but not great!

  8. Shame you didn’t like this one Anna, I thought it was great. Loved Farrell and Gleeson, thought they worked really well together. Nevertheless, nice review!

    1. Thanks! I’m starting to think it’s a shame that I didn’t like it as well! Lots of persuasive comments here. This was probably the first film where I’ve been impressed by Colin Farrell, ever.

  9. Pity you didn’t like it. Really liked it myself.

    1. I’m starting to wish I liked it! I’m going to seek out more from Martin McDonagh because the script was good.

  10. Nice review however I did enjoy this film, especially the role played by Farrell! Always thought this film was a little overlooked and never quite gets the praise it should.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Yeah, Colin Farrell is great in this!

  11. I totally love this one. One of my favourites. The humour in it is exactly my kind of thing and I loved the performances in it

    1. I’m thinking of tagging this one as ‘unpopular opinion’! I love the dark humour too. Both this and Seven Psychopaths have that boundary-pushing humour that is too funny to be offensive!

  12. Haven’t had the chance to actually finish this one, I should give it a go again sometime! Great review!

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I think it’s worth giving it another go, the ending is really good!

  13. Good stuff, Anna! I actually kind of love this movie a little bit. I ❤ it occasionally when no one's looking.

    1. Haha! Are you going to give it a bit of a cuddle tomorrow for Valentine’s Day?

      1. I just might!!

        1. I’m going to give my Alejandro Jodorowsky boxset some nice chocolates.

          1. Talk to you tomorrow!!!

  14. Aww it’s a shame you didn’t like it more. This is probably one of my favorite films of all time. Yes, really!

    I re-watched it not too long ago and just couldn’t believe how well-done the ending is. I think maybe it appeals to me more because in America we tend to see a lot of thoughtless gangster flicks, so when something witty like this appears I’m inclined to love it simply because it seems so comparatively different. As for the beauty of Bruges not being highlighted, I don’t really know about that having not seen the city myself, but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps that was intentional? I.e., a moody and somewhat dirty framing of Bruges, to match the tone of the story. I thought the ambling plot was a nice reflection of the difficulties Colin Farrell is going through, and interpreted it as mimicking the circular thoughts in his head.

    1. Wow! Does it make the top ten? You’re right, it really is a smart gangster flick and I did enjoy the story concept, just not the way it was executed. I loved the ending as well though. Those last 20-30 minutes were too good. I’m wondering if I should watch this one again. So many people love it and I feel like I must have missed out on something!

  15. Hi Anna, bummer you didn’t like this one. I actually like it a lot, it’s surprisingly poignant and not just all-action. It actually made me really want to go to Bruges as well 😀

    1. Totally agreed, it’s action with added humanity! Now I want to go to Bruges too. What I saw of the canals looked beautiful and I want to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood! Looks like it’s not all bad like Colin Farrell’s character says.

  16. I must say I don’t understand the cinematography argument – I thought Bruges was incredibly well portrayed, it’s actually the main character of the story. The film is in my all time top 100 and I found the story to be very multi layered and beautifully shown, so the only thing I can agree with here is your praise for acting. Fiennes was unreal.

    1. I’m starting to wonder if I saw a different film to everyone else! I remember in the scene where Harry was on the phone to Ken and saying “it’s like a fooking fairytale”, I was thinking “Well geez Ralph Fiennes, I don’t know”. I’d love to see your top 100!

  17. The premise looks interesting enough, and while Colin is not someone who I will watch a film due to his presence, he does have talent. Your review is discouraging, because the set up sounds tedious, but eh, might be worth the trouble.

    1. By the way, I love your new layout!

      1. Thank you! 🙂 I wanted something nice and summery since it’s so warm here at the moment.

        1. Incredibly jealous. Canada is freezing cold haha….

    2. Yeah, usually I would hesitate to say that the last 20-30 minutes of a film are worth it if the remainder is shaky, but it’s almost worth it with this one. Looks like everyone is in love with this film so it might just be me!

  18. bellabone · · Reply

    You’re not the only one who disliked it… Something (I can no longer remember what) really bothered me about this movie. I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of McDonagh’s plays and they tend to be a bit disturbing, but this was just off in some way.

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone! 🙂

  19. Love this film, I saw it in Brazil when I was there in 2008 with a bit of time on my hands to kill. I had no idea what it was about as I couldn’t read the Portuguese blurb but knew it was in English with subtitles so I went… I was pleasantly surprised! I’d also never seen Colin Farrell in anything before. Great film.

  20. […] that great? I need to clarify that I really didn’t like Martin McDonagh’s 2008 outing In Bruges, and although I never reviewed it, I didn’t like Seven Psychopaths (2012) either. The big […]

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