- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Watching a trailer for “In Bruges,” you might wonder just what sort of film this is. Is it a comedy? A gangster flick? A drama? A thriller? A farce?

Yes, it is — all of the above.

And somehow, it works.

“In Bruges” is the feature film debut of London-born Irish playwright Martin McDonagh,who won the Oscar for best live-action short two years ago. With this practically perfect film, he’s made an auspicious debut, combining satire and sensibility to make a hilarious but touching movie quite unlike anything else at the multiplex this season.

Irish actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are Ray and Ken, two hitmen who are ordered to cool their heels for a spell in the Belgian city of Bruges after they’ve done a job. London boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) tells them to stay put until he calls in further instructions.

Bruges, we’re told, is the most well-preserved medieval town in the whole country. The middle-aged Ken is content to bide his time, excitedly exploring the churches and castles by day and waiting by the telephone by night. The younger, more volatile Ray isn’t so patient. Sightseeing bores him, and he wants to high-tail it back to the big city: “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

Ray doesn’t have to wait too long for some excitement — a little too much excitement. He and Ken come across a film crew one night. “They’re filming midgets!” Ray excitedly exclaims. (I told you it was part farce.) He falls for a production assistant-cum-drug dealer named Chloe (Clemence Poesy),who’s something of a con artist herself.

As the exasperating but somehow loving relationship between the two men unfolds, it becomes clear that something went very wrong in the hit back in Britain. And when Harry finally calls, demanding that it be made right, the scene is set for both capers and calamity.

It’s hard to describe the tone of “In Bruges” — the words “black comedy” don’t quite do it justice. It’s a very funny film, but lurking behind the perfectly paced jokes are those omnipresent Irish themes of guilt and redemption. “The things you’re taught as a child never really leave you, do they?” says Ken in a moment of reflection. Even hitmen can’t forget those lessons.

The tale might seem dizzying for a time, but in the end every piece in this multilayered story fits together (even that midget, played with a wry cynicism by Jordan Prentice). Helping to put the puzzle together are cinematographer Eigil Bryld’s beautiful views of Bruges and composer Carter Burwell’s striking score.

Then there’s the acting. Mr. Gleeson brings a gravitas to his odd sort of father figure, while Mr. Fiennes is priceless as he does his best Michael Caine cockney. (Despite his love for Bruges, the boss is a fish out of water there, having to consult a map during a shootout.)

Colin Farrell’s talents as an actor have often been questioned — as heartthrobs’ often are — but his work in this and Woody Allen’s recent “Cassandra’s Dream” should dispel those doubts. Before these two films, who knew the brash actor could play tortured so well? His character here represents nothing less than life and all its possibilities, as his partner in dubious crime finally makes us understand.

****

TITLE: “In Bruges”

RATING: R (strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Martin McDonagh

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

WEB SITE: www.filminfocus. com/inbruges

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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