Viking Night: In Bruges

By Bruce Hall

November 13, 2012

What a lovely romantic holiday.

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Almost everyone’s been fired from a job. But when you’re a hit man, the severance benefits tend to be a little uncompromising. Colin Farrell learns the hard way in playwright Martin McDonagh’s feature film debut, In Bruges. It’s an intimate black comedy charged with cynicism, bristling with unexpected humanity and grounded by a strong foundation of good old-fashioned Irish Catholic guilt. Aptly named, the film is shot entirely on location in Bruges, Belgium. The city’s ancient medieval architecture provides a backdrop both serene and surreal for a pair of disgraced killers who unwittingly become tourists in each other’s shattered lives.

Ray (Farrell) is a youthful Irish triggerman who botches his first assignment, taking out his target but accidentally killing an innocent child in the process. Since the murder-for-money trade has rules about these kinds of screw ups, Ray’s boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) sends him and his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to Belgium with instructions to lie low and stay out of trouble. They land in the historic city of Bruges – physically a few hours and visually several centuries from their home base in London. But it’s still too close to home for Ray, who wrestles unsuccessfully with his guilt.

Ken, being older and wiser than his apprentice, is content to kick back with a good book while they await their orders. But Ray’s torment makes him stir crazy. As an act of compromise they go for a stroll and stumble upon a film shoot, and Ray meets a beautiful woman named Chloe (Clémence Poésy). Eager for both release and redemption, he turns on the charm and gets himself some digits. Energized, he temporarily forgets his anguish and tries to enjoy his time in exile while he waits for his rendezvous with Chloe. But the novice killer finds himself stalked by the memory of what he’s done, and faced with the image of it every time he closes his eyes.


But he finds a kindred spirit in Chloe – a nihilistic pleasure junkie who gets a kick out of petty crime and hard drugs. She revels in Ray’s dark side, and it quickly gets him into trouble. Which is about the time Ken gets a call – there was a reason Harry sent them to this “fairy tale town”, as he calls it. Ray killed a child, and even though it was an accident, this is something Harry can’t abide. It’s to be a destination assassination – Ken’s orders are to let Ray have a nice time, one last time, and then put a bullet in his head. It’s a cruel task that puts Ken on the same plane on his partner – grappling with death in a way that offends the already ambiguous moral code one must follow when they kill people for money.

Ken must now make a choice. Does he follow orders, honor the Code and kill his best friend? Or does he sign his own death warrant by ignoring Harry’s command and taking pity on someone who already seems too miserable to go on living anyway? Yeah...did I mention this is a dark comedy? In the hands of Guy Ritchie this might have been a loud, bombastic shoot-em-up. And maybe that would also be a good film. But here, the result is more personal, and therefore meaningful.

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