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Colin Farrell
Ralph Fiennes
Brendan Gleeson
Clemence Poesy.
Running Time
107 minutes

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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

RE: In Bruges

Just seen this now, after being released an age ago, it seems. Very funny and surprisingly emotional, Farrell is on top form and Gleeson as Ken is an avuncular uncle figure/mentor/friend to Farrell's troubled Ray. The ending is surprisingly touching and pulls no punches about what it wants to say. The scene with the 'Americans' in the restaurant was particularly funny, or Ray dodging the obese American chasing him for calling him an elephant. 4/5. ... More

Posted by Larry of Arabia at 18:31, 16 May 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

This film is sick, sick, sick – and I absolutely loved it. It's like a guilty pleasure, you know you shouldn't really be laughing at something that is pretty violent and very un-PC and even quite shocking and sad in parts, but you can't help it, because it's brilliant. It actually makes you feel sorry for a couple of hit men. It restored my faith in Colin Farrell, who I had been thinking was just a waste of space – the whole cast was good. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Queen Sue at 10:06, 29 April 2008 | Report This Post


Going into the film I was rather pessimistic about the chances of me enjoying this flick but I need not have doubted as everyone is on 5 star form. Really sharp funny dialogue with a great performance from Farrell reassuring people that there is more to him behind his good looks and that moustache he had in Miami Vice. And it's good to see that there is another film maker besides Guy Ritchie who can tap into this sense of tone and still keep his audience laughing.   All in all a reall... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by matthewforan at 14:22, 24 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

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, although I can see why some people might not like it.  Totally offbeat and excellent.  It's great that someone has the guts to show some everyday un-pc humour... More

Posted by Gimli The Dwarf at 05:27, 23 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

A bit slow but I loved it. It has a quick and witty script that is full of funny and snappy dialogue. Farrell and Gleason were very good but Ralph Fiennes stole the movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Starscream at 20:48, 20 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

this was not the film I was led to expect...i still enjoyed it...but I was led to expect a fast paced caper set in a quaint little town. But this was far more depressing than that! Kind of like my experience of "the savages". I went expecting a comedy intertwined with a touch of drama, but by the time credits rolled and the lights came on I had tears in ym eyes and my mate was bawling like a baby!   I hate it when trailers mis represent a film. Granted, In Bruges wasn't exceptionally m... More

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Posted by Stalla at 12:02, 20 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

I loved it, a close call between this and There Will Be Blood for film of the year so far for me. 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), Colin Farrell shows that he can actually act and is wasted in crap like Miami Vice, and as always Brendan Gleeson is great.    The trailer is maybe a little bit misleading, there are numerous extremely fu... More

Posted by Indio at 23:23, 19 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

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, although I can see why some people might not like it.  Totally offbeat and excellent.  It's great that someone has the guts to show some everyday un-pc humour in a film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dracovir at 22:19, 19 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Overrated

Both dark, brutal and very funny in parts.... a very intriguing movie with all three leads on top form   4.5/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DJ Rob C: Mark II! at 18:15, 19 April 2008 | Report This Post


Like many Irish people, Martin McDonagh appears to have been born in Camberwell, London. ... More

Posted by Gator at 15:56, 18 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: In Bruges

A Brilliantly written and acted film.  And for anyone who didn't understand that Peter Serafinowicz Ralph Fiennes sketch - see this film and it'll become crystal clear. ... More

Posted by wombathog at 12:11, 17 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: In Bruges

L: thedrin  ... with British financiers. sp; Well Focus Features are a subsidery of Universal....   Anyway, fucking loved it, havent smiled that much in the cinema for ages. Only things that stop it being a 5 star for me are the sometimes ill-thought out sudden leaps in tone and the female character never quite convinced me. Overall though, the dialogue is some of the best I have heard in ages, Farrell and Gleeson are a joy together, Ralph Fiennes is quite extradoinary (h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by badassmofo at 11:04, 17 April 2008 | Report This Post


Very funny film that pulls no punches. Ace performences and a solid story but wasn't really expecting the dark tone of the last act. Although I guess it had to go down like that as it is a film about hitmen at the end of the day!! Top stuff. ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 00:37, 16 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Seen It

]t part of this film is the wonderful city of Bruges. But the rest is severley lacking. The humour is based on Colin Farrell swearing and raising his eyebrows at every opportunity. There are some genuine comic moments, but they are too few as the pace of the film beings to lag after the first 30 minutes. As for Fiennes terrible hackneyed gangster - only Brendan Gleeson keeps this from being total rubbish. It's only getting great reviews as it's irish. ORIGINAL: skeletonjack Like Father Ted... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HIroProtagonist at 11:12, 10 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Seen It

Like Father Ted, but with guns. Very funny and highly recommended. 4 stars ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by skeletonjack at 22:04, 07 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: In Bruges

Excellent film. Have seen it twice already and enjoyed it just as much on the second viewing. Anyone who's ever found themselves on a sightseeing holiday they didn't want to be on will find lots of humour here. Consistently funny throughout with some endlessly quotable dialogue, too. Good performance from Farrell and (as per usual) Gleeson. Fiennes may not be playing Hamlet, but he's clearly having fun. Empire got it right - his charachter is very similar to Ben Kingsley's in Sexy Bea... More

Posted by thedrin at 19:16, 01 April 2008 | Report This Post

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