Ah, Bruges. Home to medieval architecture, storybook landscapes and one of the most darkly appealing comedies to come along in ages. Irish hitmen Ken (Gleeson) and Ray (Farrell) are sent to the picture-perfect Belgian city on the orders of their temperamental boss Harry (Fiennes) after a job in London goes horribly wrong.
Harry’s directions are simple enough: stay put for two weeks and wait for further instruction. It shouldn’t be difficult, but their swift relocation doesn’t sit well with Ray. A newcomer to the harsh realities of being a killer for hire, he longs for the grime of his home city of Dublin, or even the bustle of London, instead of the fairytale exile he equates to hell. To get the point across to Ken, Ray expresses his dislike for the situation with constant cursing and childlike stubbornness. Ken, the wise elder, chooses to pass his time indulging in the city’s cultural offerings and keep Ray in check, and with that he has his hands full.
Ray, despite his grumblings, attempts to adjust to Bruges by trying to befriend a dwarf actor named Jimmy (Prentice), if only to serve his odd obsession with little people. In the process he meets Chloe (Posey), a native of the city who sells drugs to film crews. These two characters are the catalysts for numerous laughs, even if they are against the better judgment of politically correct film-goers. Farrell and Gleeson make an amiable and amusing odd couple: Ray blabbers endlessly about his admiration for the Vietnamese and his disdain for loud, bloated Americans — after all, they murdered John Lennon. Farrell could let his reputation as a wild child overshadow Ray, but instead he turns in an equally touching and amusing performance. It’s a vast improvement from another of his gun-wielding roles, SWAT, which was an action-packed bore. Here he gets back to the gruff humour that made him shine as the Celtic music-loving thug in Intermission.
Gleeson, always a class act, plays the perfect straight man to Farrell’s brash youth. He is deserving of as many accolades as Farrell’s blissfully ignorant and naïve clown. In its entirety, In Bruges doesn’t settle to become a smug British gangster flick like Guy Ritchie’s funny and flashy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or the matter-of-fact criminal character study Layer Cake. It could easily turn into another cookie-cutter British mob comedy-drama, but Academy Award-winning director Martin McDonagh (2006's Best Short Film, Six Shooter) doesn’t let that happen. He cleverly tackles issues of loyalty, honour and redemption without force-feeding these weighty topics. The one obstacle to McDonagh’s near perfect film is Fiennes’ foul-mouthed London tough Henry — the performance can be best classified as a spot on impression of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast but it still just about works for quick jabs of side-splitting humour.