I have to agree with the movie’s premise: Bruges is a shithole. I’ve been there a handful of times and 60% of that were bad experiences. However, it also has some nice scenery. Another point correctly observed by the movie.
Fortunately, my research on Martin McDonagh’s output was very limited. I knew he’d made a short movie and that this was his first feature film, but that was about all I knew. Again… fortunately. I did see Six Shooter, his award-winning short and was gravely disappointed. I liked some of the ideas and I could see where he was going, but I didn’t like the sauce that was poured over the film. And as you know, a dish ain’t complete without a good sauce. And the wrong sauce makes the dish unappetising.
In Bruges shows great progress. Six Shooter was set on a train (you may remember I have said before that some of the best movies were set on things people can’t get out of – but if the movie isn’t great, the result is horrendous), featured gun violence and an actor named Brendan Gleeson. Sounds familiar, anyone? For his feature debut McDonagh has done a similar trick: two hitmen have to go to Bruges and stay there waiting for further instructions. Both sense that there may be another job ahead and thus the city becomes another locked place. (So it’s not a train this time – although, funnily enough, there is a train in the movie.)
It is not the only problem the movie has: sometimes it’s hard to find the plot credible. Yes, we know that Bruges is the setting of the film and that Ray (who at one point tries to leave the place) has to return there, but the way McDonagh (writer and director) handles this… I don’t know if in Ireland police will make a train stop in the middle of nowhere (literally, we’re in a field) to arrest a man for what’s arguably not the biggest crime in the world, but I’ve never seen that happen here. Honestly, Ray coming to the conclusion he’d forgotten his wallet and travel back to Bruges on foot would’ve made more sense.
Staying in Bruges isn’t too awful for Ken (Gleeson) who loves the beauty of the city. Unlike his partner. We learn quite soon that Ray (Colin Farrell) hates the city with a passion, but that part of that anger comes from a recent job that didn’t go too well (Ray and Ken are both hitmen.) Things seem to improve when Ray meets local girl Chloë (Clémence Poésy), who hangs around a film shoot for unclear reasons.Her claim she deals drugs for the film crew sounds unbelievable, but Ray soon finds out that’s the truth. This is also how he meets Chlöe’s less than gentle friend Eirik (can you recognize Jérémie Renier?).
This brings us to one of the biggest problems I have with the film: the film is based in Bruges (which lies in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region called Flanders) butthe locals aren’t portrayed by local actors. Renier is from Wallonia (granted, that’s still in Belgium), Poésy is French and the lovely innkeeper Marie is played by Thekla Reuten, who may be lovely but she’s Dutch. I’ll admit it’s not a problem for Marie (we only know she manages the inn/hotel with her husband, but we don’t know more about her: she may have been a Dutch girl who fell in love with a Flemish guy who wanted to buy a hotel in Bruges). It is a problem though for Chloë, who even says Bruges is her hometown. (Yet her accent is incredibly French.) Why is this horrid? Well, just imagine In Bruges with Colin Farrell as Ray pretending he’s from Cornwall. The British press would cry murder over the horrendous casting.
Another problem I had with the film is that it isn’t always credible. At one point Ray tries to leave Bruges by train, but he’s stopped by the police (yes, the train is stopped in the middle of the field) who come toarrest him for a minor offence. I don’t know if that happens in Ireland, but I’ve never seen it happen here.
If all this complaining has given you the idea I didn’t like In Bruges, you’re wrong. It’s just that I didn’t like it as much as I could have for the reasons stated above. Now let’s turn to what’s good about the movie. First and foremost the casting of Gleeson and Farrell. They’re a great movie couple and good for the role.
There’s also the script which contains – as one should expect from a British gangster comedy – a lot of politically incorrect moves and jokes. In Bruges is quite foul-mouthed, but because that’s perfect for this sort of movie. The young hothead and the older gangster who doesn’t mind hiding in a town that’s full of culture, quietness and Belgian beer. The ‘job’ that awaits them in Bruges. The local gangsters. What else should you expect? Mamma Mia?
The movie is actually cleverer than you might think. Chloë tells Ray the movie they’re shooting in Bruges is a Dutch adaptation of Nicolas Roeg‘s Don’t Look Now. That makes sense as Bruges is nicknamed “Venice of the North”. In between its own storylines In Bruges sometimes offers you echoes from Don’t Look Now, but by far one of the cleverist twists is that Roeg’s movie starts with a scene which foretells the rest and especially the end of the movie. In Bruges isn’t quite so bold, but does mimic that in a way: something which you see in the beginning will be echoed near the end of the film. There are more parallels between Roeg’s classic and McDonagh’s feature debut, but because I might spoil a couple of things I won’t go further. The best you can do is watch both films. After all, I might not like In Bruges as my fellow reviewer deeopey (read his review here), but it’s not a bad film. And in case you haven’t seen Don’t Look Now… for shame, for shame!
Don’t Look Now: 10/10
In Bruges: 6.5/10