Review: “In Bruges”

It’s in Belgium. What’s in Belgium? Bruges. A medieval fairyland of a Belgian city. With carriages and cathedrals. And one midget. From America. The midget. Or as he prefers, dwarf. Not the carriages or cathedrals. They’re from Belgium. Where Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are. They don’t know why. Why what? Why they’re in Bruges … It’s in Belgium.

The two men, British hit men by trade, have been mysteriously sent there to recuperate after their last killing, an affair that turned messy. Displaying an interest in life beyond his unscrupulous profession, Gleeson’s Ken takes to sightseeing through Bruges’ fairy tale beauty. More prone to fistfights, lager and narcotics, Farrell’s Ray shows less affection for swans and old stone buildings. He has more interest in the pretty production assistant on a movie set in town. The one with the midget. We mean “dwarf.” He prefers that to midget.

An offbeat black comedy, part buddy movie and part Odd Couple with better weaponry, In Bruges comes cocked with twists and surprises. Director Martin McDonagh’s debut movie twists and turns like the city’s cobblestone streets. At times it resembles the slew of 1990s underworld comedies. Then just when you think you’ve caught the zinging rhythm, it switches to notes of tenderness and humanity. This is the underworld movie in which even the psychotic crime boss (Ralph Fiennes) has at least a Grinch-sized heart.

Two months in, and this already seems to be a resurrection of a year for Farrell. Playing an Irishman whose teddy bear eyes instantly invoke forgiveness, he no longer has to put on the airs of an American, or the airs of American casting agents. This is his return to the realm of the British gangster film, which helped his birth as an actor, and it’s refreshing to see him as a figure capable of violence, humor and sympathy.

Yet it’s Gleeson who makes a stronger impression. He’s a man whose evil deeds have not pushed him too far to ignore the possibility of good in others. It’s his heart that comes into conflict with his mind and his conflicting sense of honor. If Farrell is the beating pulse, Gleeson is the bear-sized heart at the center.

In Bruges has a few too many moments of convenient plotting, of unaccountably irrational decision-making, and an ending that comes a little unhinged. Still, it’s a such an accomplished juggling act between styles and ideas that we can forgive it, and enjoy its fairy tale nature.