“In Bruges” is a dark comedy about two hit men dispatched to the medieval Belgian city of Bruges. While awaiting orders from their contact, they bicker, meet various other characters, and in a real and symbolic way, end up trying to atone for their sins.
This is especially true of Colin Farrell’s Ray, a temperamental wacko with a good heart and quick fist. He hates Americans, karate-chops a dwarf, loathes historical tours, but as played by Farrell, remains an endearing character who ends up falling in love in a city he claims to hate.
His partner is the culture-loving Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson. A big lug of a guy, he will eventually receive disturbing orders from the foul-mouthed Harry, a cold-blooded character with a conscience and cockney accent played by Ralph Fiennes.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the promising Irish playwright who wowed Broadway audiences with the Tony Award-winning “The Pillowman” in 2003, “In Bruges” riffs on a number of themes and ideas.
Reminiscent if not partially in debt to David Mamet’s “House of Games,” it also conjures up memories of Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty” and Italian neo-realist cinema, namely the recently resurrected “Mafiosi.”
McDonagh also toys with Christian themes of death, conscience, atonement and redemption, most notably with images of works by Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch painter known for renditions of religious visions and torments of hell.
These grave ideas are leavened by the movie’s dominant comic vision. Essentially, our two anti-heroes are eccentric misfits who delight us with sudden bursts of cockeyed eloquence or poignant displays of remorse at unexpected moments.
Farrell is outstanding as the working-class, culture-hating killer who cannot shake the memory of his last job resulting in an unintended casualty. See him in this role and you understand the fuss made over him a few years back when he burst onto the scene in “Tigerland” and “Minority Report.” His work here informs us that he is not only funny but smart. Gleeson once more shows us that he is a solid and sturdy performer who gives heft and credibility to a character.
“In Bruges” also serves up a variety of other personages, including the dwarf, played with wit and panache by Jordan Prentice, and the drug dealer who becomes Ray’s lover; she is portrayed by Clemence Poesy. Late in the film, Fiennes shows up to attend to some unfinished business.
Those who cite its myriad influences may judge “In Bruges” as a trifle — the kind of movie that dabbles in playful allusions before it fizzles into a flat finale. From another vantage point, however, it can be justly perceived as a clever, immensely enjoyable comedic romp with a great big heart. That is the reaction I anticipate from most viewers. It is also one I share as well.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Martin McDonagh
STARRING Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Posey and Jordan Prentice
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes