Benjamin Baxter

In Bruges: You’ve Got to Stick to Your Principles

In Reviews on January 1, 2009 at 12:45 am

The one-time family man and lifetime professional hitman has been ordered to kill his partner. He doesn’t want to; he will. It’s his job.

Attaching the silencer to a gun his boss got for him, he approaches his partner from behind. There aren’t any children around the playground, and his partner is oblivious to the rustle of grass behind him. The hitman pulls out his silenced pistol, his index finger on the trigger — just as his partner brings out his own revolver to his head. Instead of shooting, the hitman shouts:

What the fuck are you doing, Ray?

Suicide averted, but Ray sees the silenced pistol slip behind the hitman’s back.

Oh, my God. You were gonna kill me.

You were gonna kill yourself.

Well, I’m allowed.

No, you’re not.

What? I’m not allowed, and you are? How’s that fair?

It’s at the moments of high tension in In Bruges (2008) that the comedy really shines, and because we’re dealing with professional hitmen, the comedy is never darker. Writer and director Martin McDonagh almost cheerfully fills the film full of these moments, perfectly balancing tense comic relief and the overarching drama, all the while spiraling toward the inevitable climax. That there is a climax is the only inevitable thing about this film, as all of the main characters live to undo the machinations of the others, whether or not they mean to. 

In the finest performance of a movie full of fine performances, Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) is the demanding, inhuman boss who orders the hit on the rookie hitman played by Colin Farrell (Minority Report) — yet Fiennes is no mere McGuffin. Rigid principles — you don’t kill kids — define his life as a hitman, and he expects everyone to see it his way. Farrell killed a kid; he needs to be killed. It’s as simple as that, Fiennes tenderly explains to Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart). That’s just the way things are.

Gleeson grudgingly follows his orders at first, until the wholly in-character crisis of faith. Farrell needs help, not death, but even Farrell doesn’t agree with him. Even as Gleeson packs Farrell on a train to nowhere, Farrell demands his gun back so he can finish his own job.

Its in the more madcap moments of Monty Python-esque absurdity that In Bruges draws comparisons to the other great underworld farces, swapping out the silliness of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a lingering dread. Someone’s going to die.

The fun is in guessing who; there’s plenty of opportunity to be wrong the first time you see In Bruges.

If you liked Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you’ll abide In Bruges.

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