In Bruges

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Martin McDonagh
Running Time: 107 mins
Filmed on location in the famous city of Bruges in Belgium, two hit men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) escape to it after much bloodshed in London. They are effectively hit-men-in-hiding and Ray has accidently killed a young boy in London which is against hit-men rules. The film is all about what follows.

Ray is racked with guilt and remorse over his killing of the young boy. Their psychopathic boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), tells them both to take a holiday and they go to Bruges to do that for a couple of weeks, first as tourists and then as involved participants in the lives of those around them. Initially, Ray hates Bruges while Ken loves it, and as the movie develops both men are caught up in incidents with the locals that are richly detailed. The differences between Ray's and Ken's reaction to the city parallel the growing relationship between them. When the call comes from Harry to Ken to tell him to kill Ray for breaking the rules, things start to hot up. The struggle to survive in the city has consequences for all three.

The film is directed with great skill and warmth by Martin McDonagh who also wrote the script. The city takes on almost a role in itself. The contrast between the established nature of the Flemish city and the fragility of the characters often makes for comic interaction between the main characters and their environment. As the movie progresses the nature of the city changes to reflect the mood of the two men who are trying to avoid their past. One comes to care very much for Ray and Ken and Harry's travel to Bruges to confront them both is a startling turn It is also the catalyst for the emergence of an extraordinary loyalty of Ken to Ray that has Ken sacrificing his life to try to save Ray, who is shot by Harry before Harry himself commits suicide in an act that is bitterly ironic. What flows from this mayhem is dark comedy and it works because the film is touched by a sense of humanity, despite its violence. Tragic outcomes for all of the main characters unfold and they do so very unexpectedly in ways that reveal virtues and strengths one didn't realise were there.

Dialogue is used especially well (and strongly) by McDonagh and the movie moves with great speed from escape to relationship development to loyalty and dying in ways that remind one of the pace of Nicholas Roeg's great classic, "Don't Look Now.' McDonagh uses Bruge as Roeg used Venice, with the help of the film's cinematographer, Eigil Bryld. The feeling of understanding for the characters increases as we discover guilt, remorse and redemption in men who have killed others. In so many ways, this is a movie that might have been sentimental, but it isn't and this is a tribute to McDonagh, who unfolds the developing friendship and loyalty between Ken and Ray with understanding and compassion. It is hard to join together psychopathy and warmth, and the film manages to bring them together without losing the impact that violence has had on all three men. Violence is part of their existence, but relationships now count to the point that lives are sacrificed to maintain honour, loyalty and commitment. And it is this that lifts the film well above the ordinary.

The acting is subtle and finely honed and there is a hands-on touch to the famous city. Life's experiences rarely reflect the feeling of any one single emotion. More often than not, they result from a combination of many emotions, which fuse together to make a meaningful whole. This movie achieves that integration wonderfully well, and it is helped by a great musical sound track by Carter Burwell.

Overall, this film captures imaginatively the feeling of two hit men on a holiday. Farrell's performance as Ray has genuine vulnerability behind it and Gleeson's portrayal of Ken grows in power as we perceive the strength of a man who has always been expected to kill. The violence escalates as the film progresses, and the movie deserves its classification. However, this is a film that is distinctively different, comic and sad at the same time, and it uses the city of Bruges very much to its advantage.

Icon Features Out September 4

Peter W. Sheehan, Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.