Near the end of the film, one of our main characters questions whether or not being stuck in Bruges is the equivalent to being in Hell. However, far from badmouthing the Flemish city, director Martin McDonagh actually makes it a fascinating backdrop for a film. It’s a city full of history, romanticism, mystery, and even peril. It just depends on how you look at it, with eyes of reverence or general disdain.
In Bruges, the film, only happens because two men have to make a quick getaway after knocking off a target in London. That is the life of a hit man. Quick work and then long periods of waiting. That is the majority of what we witness, following the existences of Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson). Ray is a bit of a jerk sometimes and to him, Bruges is a living nightmare. Completely and utterly dull. But then he happens upon a fantastical film set starring a dwarf. There a beautiful woman Chloe (Clemence Poesy) catches his eye and then Bruges doesn’t seem so bad after all. At least for now.
Then there’s Ken. He’s not looking for casual companionship or booze. He has respect for the arts, the places of worship and the culture around him. Both men share foul Irish mouths and a general jadedness about their profession. After all, being a hitman is a living, but as Ray finds out it’s not without its stress. Shooting a little boy on accident takes its toll, and Ray must contemplate the entire framework of his morality. Meanwhile, Ken sticks by the phone and gets a call from their fiery boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). He gets an order, and it catches him off guard. He already has his next assignment, but now he must attempt to reconcile orders with personal conviction. These are hitmen with a conscience.
Scum of the earth, yes, rough around the edges, maybe, yet somehow they still reveal their humanity. The miracle is that through the violence, we still find common ground to relate with them. We become thoroughly involved in this tale that, while darkly funny, is most certainly moving. When all the shots are fired, what we’re left with feels like a Shakespearian tragedy sprinkled with the absurdity of Bosch. Place all of this in front of the quaint Flemish setting and you have a rewarding adventure. I also recently saw Hot Fuzz and it seems that these films could almost be watched in tandem. Aside from both being British productions, they both have action, violence, and dark humor, but perhaps, more importantly, they exhibit genuine heart. That’s something not to be taken too lightly these days.