Every so often, a movie comes along that defies all expectations. It’s not that it’s the perfect movie or anything, but you might have just had really low expectations and just been surprised when it had something of actual substance. At least, that was the case with In Bruges, but if we’re being totally honest, that’s usually the case of any Colin Farrell movie with any depth. But it’s not fair to pin In Bruges down as a “Colin Farrell movie.” I mean, sure, the guy is in it, but it doesn’t seem fair to really call him the star of the movie. Even after watching it several times, including a recent re-watch, I’m still not sure who I’d give leading man status to, between Farrell and Gleeson, but luckily I don’t have to.
For those unfamiliar with In Bruges, the film follows two hitmen, who are forced to lay low after one of their assassinations causes the unintended death of a young boy. At first glance, the movie is packaged and sold as a comedy, but it is the film’s unwillingness to consent to a single genre that makes it so engaging. It’s not a typical mixture of comedy and drama. the two elements seem almost entirely separate until the film’s final moments, which makes for a somewhat manic movie-going experience, but Farrell and Gleeson make the ride so enjoyable, it’s hard to care about the jumps between drama and comedy.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, respectively. There’s a sort of student/mentor thing that defines their relationship, and even causes some conflict, but the chemistry between the two actors is what makes In Bruges so memorable. Farrell is golden as the immature man-child, upset at his current situation (hiding out in Bruges and all) and Gleeson sells “reluctant father figure” beautifully. But still, it’s when the walls come down and you see the two in an emotional scene, which is admittedly rare, that the real heart of the movie shines through. The range of the pairing is truly one of the most remarkable parts of the movie. One minute they’re like a fucked-up Bing Crosby and Bob Hope On the Road movie, and the next thing you know you’re doin’ your damnedest to not let your emotions take over. But then again, while these two are the clear focus, and a strong team at that, no movie can rely on the merits of the good guys alone. I mean, some of the credit belongs to the bad guy.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say, a good movie is only as good as its worst character. With In Bruges that dubious honor goes to Harry, played by Ralph Fiennes. Harry isn’t your typical villain. He’s not cold or unfeeling really. He’s practical. He’s a businessman. Sure, it’s not a line of business many people would be willing to jump into and it’s kinda scary how good he is at it, but that’s part of Harry’s charm as the villain. But it’s not just the writing of the character here. Fiennes sells sadistic nutjob along with the best of them. I think what makes him such a great character is that he’s never too over-the-top. We’ve seen countless psychopaths go to one extreme or the other. You’ve got those emo “I cut because it makes me feel” type psychos, and on the other end of the spectrum, you have your Frank Booths, sucking in oxygen and cackling wildly. Harry’s somewhere in the middle. He has some great moments where Fiennes delivers insane lines in the calmest voice you’ve ever heard. But it’s a combination of the tone of the character and Fiennes’ delivery itself that makes Harry such an entertaining villain to watch and even easier to hate.
What you end up with, with a movie like In Bruges, i s a mixed bag of tricks. It’s hard to know exactly what to think of it as it carelessly plays with your emotions, offering up solid comedy, but also substantial tragedy. Still, the movie clearly succeeds on one level or another. Part of that should be attributed to director Martin McDonagh, who was also the film’s writer, and his familiarity with the material and his unquestionable desire to tell the story. The rest of the cast lies squarely with the cast. The back-and-forth between Farrell and Gleeson is absolutely priceless. Even in their weakest moments, they still manage to command the screen. But Fiennes deserves credit as well. As the villain of the piece, he brings a much-needed tension, while also bringing some levity to the movie’s more intense parts. All in all, Bruges may not be a place Ray ever pictured he’d end up, but that shouldn’t stop audiences from taking a trip to In Bruges.