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In Bruges: Fairytale town or hell?

Updated on December 8, 2013
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features

Bruges is a European city in Belgium known for its historic center and its Venice-like canals. I've never been there, so it's up to those that have been to answer the titular question. And that's the symbolic question that lies within the subtext of Martin McDonagh's film, In Bruges, where every character perceives the city in a different way.

Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features
Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features

The film follows a duo of hitmen: veteran Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and rookie Ray (Colin Farrell). After Ray's first assignment goes awry (he kills a young child), his boss, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes), sends them to Bruges, allegedly to lay low. As soon as they arrive, Ray labels the place "a s**thole", but still, they try to enjoy the pleasantries of the city, be it the tourist settings, museums, the women, drugs, etc. However, the next day, Ken receives a call from Harry in which he instructs him to get rid of Ray. This leads him to question his loyalty to his boss, or his friendship to Ray.

Although the film is clearly a black comedy with its off-the-wall, quirky nature, at times it veers closely to more dramatic territory, particularly in its symbolism about the nature of the city of Bruges, and how the characters perceive it. The city takes such a forefront presence in the film that it even feels like its own character at times. From the minute they arrive, Ken loves the place and enjoys riding the canals, visiting museums, or sitting in parks. His boss, Harry, later tells Ken that he sent them to Bruges because he remembered the place from his childhood, and how it was like a fairytale.That's the reason why he sent them there, because he wanted Ray's last days to be at a beautiful place.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features

However, Ray considers the place "a s**thole", and is unable to see the beauties that his partner sees. The guilt of his crime makes him feel like he's been taken to Purgatory or Hell, and he suffers like so. His rationalization is strengthened by the bizarre characters he meets in the way: a dwarf, a drug dealer, a thief, a gun dealer... a couple of Canadians. Regardless of how each character perceives it, the city becomes a place of retribution for each of them, as all of them are forced to face their sins and atone for them with their actions.

In the end, it's up to us to answer the question about Bruges. Is this place the fairytale setting that Ken says it is, or that his boss remembers? or is it the hell, or the Purgatory Ray is sent to as punishment for his crime? Whether it's Ken, Ray, or Harry, each of them ends up seeing the place in different lights for different purposes.

Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Harry (Ralph Fiennes) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features
Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Harry (Ralph Fiennes) © Film4 Productions/Focus Features
In Bruges
Release date
February 8, 2008
Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh
Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes
107 minutes
Box office

Overall, the film was entertaining enough, even though the first half had an awkward, sorta bumbling pace. The random dialogues between Ken and Ray felt at times like the writer was pushing too hard for a Pulp Fiction-like vibe. Also, the performance of Farrell didn't help. I've seen him doing much better work (Tigerland, Minority Report, Phone Booth) but his performance here wasn't that great. Particularly in an important scene where he breaks down crying due to the guilt of what he did. Gleeson, on the other hand, was solid as usual. The second half of the film did kicked it up a notch, the pace felt more settled and more assured than it did at first. And the addition of Fiennes in that act didn't hurt the film either.

To sum it up, the film was good, but it could've been better had it had a more assured pace in its first half, and a better performance from Farrell. Grade: B

7.9 /10

Have you been to Bruges? How would you describe it?

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In Bruges Official Trailer


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