Review: IN BRUGES (2008) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014]

Ken: Ray, come on, let’s go.
Ray: My arse, ‘Let’s go.’ They’re filming midgets!

To celebrate the ‘Virgin Media Best of BIFF’, twenty years of the northern festival, a surprise screening of In Bruges was on hit list for the last day of the Bradford-based celebrations. Arriving to the sight of Brian Cox pulling up in a sponsored car outside the National Media Museum, pomp and circumstance was quickly left behind as we delved into the murky world of two Irish assassins lying low in Belgium after a job gone wrong.

Starring Colin Farrell as Ray (in a career-best turn) and the ever-reliable Brendan Gleeson as Ken, In Bruges has become a bit of a cult favourite after its release in 2008. Premièring on the opening night of the 14th edition of the festival, it has only gained in critical and fan acclaim from word-of-mouth, DVD sales and television airings ever since.


Watching Colin Farrell’s eyebrows and Ralph Fiennes’ teeth on an IMAX screen was certainly memorable, but it was once again Martin McDonagh’s script which shone. Serendipitously, Channel Four had shown his brother’s (John Michael McDonagh) The Guard the evening before, and with the festival hosting screenings of his latest collaboration Calvary, it was fitting that this would be the film as chosen by the public to celebrate home-grown talent at the festival. It was certainly a unique experience to settle in our seats without quite knowing exactly what were going to see…and the 18 certificate warning as we entered the auditorium was a tantalising clue. Hilarious, violent and surprisingly poignant at times, In Bruges is a masterpiece. It upturns the general expectations of a gritty hit-man flick and sprinkles it with humorous one-liners and incidences which together pull a motley crew of characters who are impossible to wholly dislike: think Grosse Pointe Blank meets Withnail and I.  Futhermore, Fiennes is unnerving as Farrell and Gleeson’s absent boss, his presence towers over the narrative, though when he does finally grace the screen, his monstrous persona is explosive, and not even desk telephones can escape his wrath.

Considering themes of retribution, guilt, faith and redemption, In Bruges can move swiftly from surreal encounters with “racist midgets” to moments of great solemnity. And though light relief is never far from most scenes in this film, it is explicitly clear that these characters have been banished to Bruges and occupy their own kind of purgatory: exiled from those working above them, both earthly and divine. The film however, never strays too far away from pointing out how stupid these characters can be, and though we want them to lead happier, less blood-splattered lives, we fear they will always revert to the gun-toting tropes they have been sketched into:

Harry: I suppose you’ve got a gun up there?
Ray: Yeah.
Harry: Then what are we gonna do? We can’t stand here all night.
Marie: Why don’t you both put your guns down and go home?
Harry: Don’t be stupid. This is the shootout.

A perfect example of the shape of Irish and British filmmaking today, In Bruges is a delight, instantly quotable and forever a classic in the making. In Bruges had stiff competition to win the ‘Virgin Media Best of BIFF’ poll which included the likes of Trainspotting, This Is England, Slumdog Millionaire, Four Lions and Casino Royale amongst others, but easily muscled out the competition with its ability to switch tone, illustrate characters and deliver comical dialogue at such a speed that you risk whip-lash just sitting in the cinema. Highly recommended.

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