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In Bruges
Visit beautiful Belgium for waffles, beer and hitmen

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Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), two foul-mouthed Irish hitmen, lie low in the medieval Belgian town of Bruges to evade the police after a botched job back home. While awaiting instructions from their furious boss Harry (Fiennes), Ken braces himself for the worst...

In Bruges
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In Bruges is not for everyone. Like its characters, it’s unruly, foul-mouthed and has a weird sense of humour and no concept of good behaviour. But even if those caveats whet your appetite, there’s another hurdle to overcome: the dread phrase “British gangster movie”. In America, Martin McDonagh’s genre-stretching film already made a cautious bow at the box office, alienating some higher-brow critics who sniffed at its wayward and irresponsible tone but finding a surprising amount of support from grassroots cinemagoers, despite a very limited release.

It’s a strange film. Going into it, there are all kinds of questions you might be asking yourself - isn’t this just Sexy Beast meets Pulp Fiction? Isn’t Brendan Gleeson a bit above this kind of thing? What is Colin Farrell famous for anyway? - but, coming out, all that remains are the positives. In fact, one online review - posted on by user “Kristina” - accidentally nails its perverse charm while trying to slam it. “Bad acting, unlikeable and underdeveloped characters, bizarre and stupid situations, too much blood, ridiculous ending,” she raged. But it wasn’t all bad news. “My husband and I were both disappointed in this movie,” she concluded, “but the one good thing about it was that we learned something about Bruges and would like to visit there someday.”

This barbed compliment would no doubt amuse writer-director McDonagh, and, more to the point, sounds like something one of his characters might say. Once you’ve seen the film (and you must, even if just to disagree with this very, very positive review) hopefully it’ll amuse you too, thinking of the individual who fidgeted and tutted through 100 minutes of swearing, violence and profane epistemology - not to mention rampant class-A drug and dwarf abuse - and after all that still fancied a nice city break. It’s fittingly bathetic too, because, though it superficially takes place in the same cartoon underworld as Lock, Stock and its offspring, In Bruges has more in common with a Mike Leigh film than any of Guy Ritchie’s.

Part of the reason for this is that McDonagh’s background, like Leigh’s, is in theatre, which explains both In Bruges’ weakness and strengths. Like a good stage play, McDonagh’s film explores character through dialogue as well as action, and though this makes it somewhat static - even taking into consideration its frenzied, blood-spattered showdown - In Bruges is able to sneak in some heavyweight questions under the radar.

Though it speaks of contract-killing and cocaine-dealing, scoring and whoring, this surprisingly thoughtful film leaves plenty of ideas to be mulled over later, particularly those involving notions of audience identification. In Bruges is a film no Hollywood studio would ever make; it’s a film in which not one single foregrounded character - even the duplicitous love interest (the otherwise adorable Poésy) - is worthy of our sympathy, but by its enigmatic ending it has us, if not cheering them on, then definitely accepting them, and maybe even feeling genuine, if misplaced, affection for them.

The key line arrives a little way into the movie. Ray and Ken have arrived in Bruges and, while Ken is enjoying the majesty of the local architecture, Ray is behaving like a petulant teen. “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me,” he sulks. “But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” Though funny, this kind of banter isn’t exactly new in the general field of gangster movies, let alone the UK kind or its rarefied fish-out-of-water subgenre (see - or rather don’t - the Brighton-set Circus). However, when Ray looks across the town’s cobbled courtyard, where a camera crew is shooting, the film gets a much-needed jolt. Diverting from the smart-arse blueprint, Ray suddenly becomes a child again, his face melting with delight. “They’re filming midgets!” he squeals.

Here, we enter the first of the film’s carefully laid minefields. The politics of the vertically challenged are as complex as they’ve ever been, so without wishing to offend people of size, we’ll stick with the film’s terminology for now (although Ray is told that “midgets” prefer the word “dwarf”). Jimmy, the “little fella” being filmed - an incredibly game Jordan Prentice, whose early starring role in Howard The Duck (1986) suggests that he may actually be physically incapable of embarrassment - is a curveball thrown so elegantly by McDonagh that his fall from grace coincides smoothly with our growing fondness for Ray and Ken. During the film’s hilarious lads’-night-out scene, it takes us a while to realise that Jimmy, even to those who saw Peter Dinklage’s unsentimental performance in The Station Agent, isn’t just some afflicted victim to be pitied, he’s a flesh-and-blood guy like everyone else. And he’s a total arse.

Of the central pair, at first we’re drawn to the avuncular Ken rather than the goofy, irritating Ray. But once his terrible secret is revealed, Ray suddenly seems more vulnerable, perhaps even more romantic, than his thug shell suggests. It’s partly in the writing, but more importantly it’s in Colin Farrell’s sad, scared eyes, in a performance that reminds us that he actually hasn’t really had a chance to do much of this kind of thing over the past eight years or so. He’s joined armies and led them, played US cops and robbers, but with the exception of 2003’s Intermission he hasn’t done a human comedy, let alone the black kind, and the results here suggest he ought to do quite a bit more.

But Farrell isn’t carrying this engagingly digressive caper alone, and Gleeson makes the perfect foil, simultaneously despairing of, and caring for, his troubled, trigger-happy sidekick. While Farrell fits the stereotypical profile of the hip young gunslinger, Gleeson is the very antithesis, but just when you’re getting used to this offbeat casting, McDonagh plays his trump card. If you haven’t seen Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, the payoff will be more effective, but even if you have, Ralph Fiennes’ performance as grouchy crime boss Harry is still something to be savoured. With a Peter Cook drawl and dressed in Essex slacks and slip-ons, Harry is the true snake amid this already unsavoury ensemble, phoning Ken with his secret mission in Bruges while Ray is supposedly in the toilet (“Is he having a poo or a wee?” the oily Harry rather creepily asks).

With its three protagonists in place, In Bruges begins its frantic final act, which is where some of its artfully packed contents start to spill out, and the simple pleasures of its character studies give way to overexcited intrigue, tragedy and an inevitable climactic shoot-out. Still, this is a minor gripe about a film which takes a genre that shouldn’t be allowed any more, never mind encouraged, and fashions something provocative and original in its thinking.

Despite some deliberate nods to medieval theosophy, and a coda that’s more arthouse than grindhouse, In Bruges isn’t exactly Samuel Beckett’s Get Carter - let’s face it, if Samuel Beckett had written Get Carter, Carter wouldn’t have turned up, would he? But to fill that existential gap, both literally and figuratively, this savvy, punk-rock pistol opera will do very nicely indeed.

With In Bruges, the British gangster movie gets a Croydon facelift. It may not be new, but it’s a wonderfully fresh take on a familiar genre: fucked-up, far-out and very, very funny.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for In Bruges
Empire Star Rating

Brilliant Bruges

A work of genius. Witty, funny, touching. Amazing dialogue. Where was the Oscar love? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:40, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

Brilliant Bruges

A work of genius. Witty, funny, touching. Amazing dialogue. Where was the Oscar love? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:40, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

Brilliant Bruges

A work of genius. Witty, funny, touching. Amazing dialogue. Where was the Oscar love? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:40, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

very poor film

awful script. unearned emotional payoff at the end. and fiennes was embarrasingly bad as a limp-voiced "cockney" - about as threatening as david beckham. and why are there only 6 people in belgium, all of whom seem to know each other? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fireal1 at 11:08, 09 May 2011 | Report This Post

I thought it was a rare instance where a movie is extremely funny and yet really makes you think. The first two acts perfectly set up the climatic third act. In the first two acts you really connect with each character and see why everyone thinks the way they do and you agree with everyone to a certain extent. Colin Farell is perfect in his role as the man child Ray, his tempo, comedic timing and childishness never overshadow his true feelings and he brings alot of heart into it. Brendan Gle... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TarantinoQT at 21:35, 13 March 2011 | Report This Post

Funny, Poignant And Memorable

It's rare that a film can come along and affect you in a way that makes you laugh and makes you really connect with the struggles of the lead characters. This is exactly what In Bruges does, and it does it with such an unpretentious and dramatic flair that it is one of the best films of the year. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 17:49, 21 September 2010 | Report This Post

Weird - but still very good - comedy

This film is quite similar to Burn After Reading, in the sense that it's humour is not for everyone and needs to be understood to be appreciated. Therefore, make sure you are familiar with similar films before deciding to give this a go. In its defence, Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes all turn in delighful performances which truly make In Bruges an enjoyable experience. Some jokes found within the film are surprisingly hilarious, making it at least more passable for newcomers to this type of film.... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 17:01, 07 April 2010 | Report This Post

This film was a bit overhyped for me and I felt that it didn't live up to the expectation that I hoped for. Having said that it was pretty good. Very funny in places. I'd recommend it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PureAinmhi at 19:55, 29 October 2009 | Report This Post

RE: In a Bungle

L: hatebox Funny, for most it's the other way round - the trailer looked God-awful but the film turned out to be a gem. Anyway, I liked it enough but it definitely helped having a few buddies in the cinema who were in the mood to laugh after a few pints. usually swim upstream, not intentionally of course. Some times, being around certain people who enjoy the film can make one more appreciative of a film. Or certainly relax when the audience laughs or reacts otherwise to a scene. ... More

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 02:15, 10 June 2009 | Report This Post

RE: In a Bungle

L: Emyr Thy King I shall be discordant and voice my disappointment with the film. When I originally saw the trailer for the film, I had high hopes. Funny, for most it's the other way round - the trailer looked God-awful but the film turned out to be a gem. Anyway, I liked it enough but it definitely helped having a few buddies in the cinema who were in the mood to laugh after a few pints. ... More

Posted by hatebox at 21:09, 09 June 2009 | Report This Post

In a Bungle

7"]*Spoilersze="7"]* shall be discordant and voice my disappointment with the film. When I originally saw the trailer for the film, I had high hopes. I was intrigued by what seemingly was a funny premise involving two hitmen on/from a bungled kill job that for whatever reason, were residing in the eponymous town. However, the film is a strange mix of black comedy and drama. Whilst the combination of such genres does not equate an immediate failure it does present a far more difficult challenge ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Emyr Thy King at 03:55, 09 June 2009 | Report This Post


I liked the First and Second acts more than the Third. I dont know the third act is a bit jarring especially when you know who takes the plunge. I guess it is a credit to the screenplay because I really cared for both main characters and was really expecting a different ending, i wanted a different ending. The jokes were subtle and hilarious. The acting was very good indeed. The directing superb. rial]]......4/5.....] ... More

Posted by wgamador at 13:22, 17 March 2009 | Report This Post

RE: In Bruges

Just got round to watching this with the missus and we both really enjoyed it.  Good performances, great/quotable dialogue and well paced.  A film i can see myself going back to.   L: Indio The acting was uniformly excellent (although maybe Ralph Fiennes portrayal of Harry seemed to be veering into 'Sir' Ben Kingsley Sexy Beast territory on more than one occasion sp; Exactly what i thought, it was uncanny at times.     ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Grady at 00:30, 17 March 2009 | Report This Post

Incredibly original, with the best hitmen and tongue-in-cheek screenplay since Pulp Fiction. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WiseGuy101 at 21:58, 21 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

I wasn't that bothered about this film initially but when I saw it I thought it was brilliant. The comedy is genious and the characters work so well together. It actually makes me want to visit it just for a giggle!! So glad they won an award at the BAFTAs. Absolute genious ... More

Posted by Lillybunny at 12:35, 10 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

Really the only reason why I watched this movie was because Colin Farrell was in it. The city of Bruges is this beautiful yet haunting place of medieval times, with old world canals and architecture. It gives the movie it's uniqueness. I expected more of a thriller with more cat and mouse, then two hitmen wondering around Bruges waiting for the next assignment. I did think the Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson had great performances though. I thought they played well off each other in a kind of... More

Posted by JoeyPottr at 05:33, 10 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: one word

wow ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by m_er at 01:33, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post

one word

WOW !! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by m_er at 01:31, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post

one word

WOW !! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by m_er at 01:31, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post


from beggining to end this film is flawless. its funny, action-packed and surprisingly emotional. The entire cast (including the racist dwarf) are fantastic and without them the film wouldn't be what it is. And that is a masterpiece ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by therockincheeseman at 20:57, 21 January 2009 | Report This Post

Thats for John Lennon ya cunt.

The funniest film of the year. Dramatic, tragic and hilarious. Every actor pulls his weight. Besides thae fantastic performances of Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes the midget, the arms dealer and even the poor canadian guy are all fantastic. Great film. Can't fault it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ruairt at 12:31, 14 January 2009 | Report This Post

In Bruges

The perfection of this film is only realised as the credits role. The comedy, the action, the drama, the romance and even the emotion is handled so well this film is by far one of the best of 2008. It's so uniquely brilliant, Farrell is superb as is Brendan Gleeson and the film is unmissable. Empire; so close from getting the rating right, yet so far. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 18:38, 31 December 2008 | Report This Post


I really enjoyed this film. It was funny but at times very moving, and the performances were great. It is good to see Colin Farrell back in a film worthy of his talent, rather than rubbish like Alexander. ... More

Posted by TellThatMickHeJust at 16:18, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post


L: Gimli The Dwarf L: dracovir Totally loved it.  Well scripted, well acted, well paced.  Everyone did their job in service to the story, no scene-stealing or scenery-chewing (which I half expected after seeing the trailer), some genuinely funny humor with some strong human characters.  I cannot find any real fault in the film.  Totally offbeat and excellent.  It's great that someone has the guts to show some everyday un-pc humour in a film.  The non-PC j... More

Posted by El Becks at 18:07, 14 October 2008 | Report This Post

loved it, i always though farrell had got too big too soon after phonebooth, here he stars in a smaller movie and blows us away. stay away from the blockbusters for a while colin and we're love ya for it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by anakin73 at 11:35, 28 September 2008 | Report This Post

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