In Bruges

Ken and Ray sit on a bench in In Bruges

“I’m sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset.”

There are many films about hitmen, but In Bruges is different. It doesn’t show a slice of life like similar films do. Instead, it uses light allegory, dark humor, and razor-sharp wit to tell a story of growth and atonement for two distinct characters who both happen to be hitmen. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Seven Psychopaths) and starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, this film is at times funny and at other times depressing, and it goes way deeper than telling the story of a string of contracted hits. This film hits the deepest parts of the soul for these two flawed protagonists as they struggle emotionally with the lives they live. This film is funny, poignant, and definitely worth a watch.

The story follows two hitmen: Ken, a veteran who cares about things more than he should, and Ray, a cynical newcomer who seems to be hiding from any self-reflection. After a botched hit, the two are ordered by their boss, Harry, to go hide out in Bruges, Belgium and await further instructions. Ken is happy to revel in the architecture, history, and culture there, but Ray is less impressed and seeks out more exciting things to keep him entertained. Eventually, the truth comes out about why Ray is so concerned with distracting himself and why Harry has them waiting there in the first place, which forces both Ray and Ken to start dealing with the choices they’ve made.

Maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.

Writer and director Martin McDonagh has a background in playwriting, and it shows: the dialogue in this film is excellent, and some of the scenes really draw out the emotions of the characters. This starts out as a sharp, cynical comedy with snappy dialogue, and there are elements of that throughout, but it quickly grows into something more. There are no Hollywood tropes or easy writing here. As an example, Ray at one point gets into trouble and discovers that the gun he acquired is loaded with blanks. For most movies, that would be the end of that gun’s usefulness, but Ray finds a clever way to use it to protect himself. Like its characters, this film is free from conventions and easy solutions and finds clever ways to connect the dots and solve problems.

A dwarf flashes his middle finger in In Bruges
Is this guy really what Europe thinks of America? Actually, don’t answer that.

In Bruges is a film that covers a lot of ground emotionally. As I said, the comedy is sharp and witty, but there are some pretty heavy topics that are covered here too, including trauma, depression, and guilt. It doesn’t go light on those heavy topics—in fact, they end up being central to the plot for both characters. Waiting in Bruges forces both characters to confront the uncomfortable parts of their past, and they end up growing tremendously right up until the end. In one scene, Ray and Ken discuss the concept of Purgatory, and that’s essentially what Bruges is for both of them: a place to atone for your sins and make your peace before moving onto the next stage.

As a dark comedy about hitmen, In Bruges may be too morbid for some. There’s a bit of graphic violence thrown into the mix as well. But those who can deal with a bit of darkness will be rewarded with a rich story about two flawed characters learning to make things right. It’s rare to see a story of hitmen actually struggling emotionally with what they’ve done, let alone a film where that’s most of the story, and this one executes that concept beautifully.

Runtime: 1:47
Director: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2008
Genres: comedy, crime, drama, indie
Rating: R

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