Technically considered a very dark black comedy, Martin McDonagh‘s In Bruges is something like Waiting for Godot played out by hit men to a gory end. Or maybe even Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead with shootout in a picturesque Belgian medieval city. Perhaps it’s no surprise that there are nods towards Pinter‘s The Dumb Waiter in both the plot and the assumed identities adopted by the main protagonists.
What makes it work so well is the oblique, snippy and stylised dialogue between two professional assassins, Ray and Ken (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson respectively.) Homage to the scene between Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction notwithstanding (eg. the absurdity of hit men sightseeing alongside tourists), this is a clever and subtle duo whose apparently inconsequential interactions convey weightier themes.
The two are hiding out in the city of Bruges after a bungled job results in Ray accidentally killing a young boy, over which he is wracked with guilt. To their Vladimir and Estragon, Ralph Fiennes is, depending on your view, Pozzo or even Godot in the form of brutal, volatile and foul-mouthed Harry Waters. This Godot puts in an appearance half way through the movie to question why Ken has not carried out his orders to kill Ray, who is increasingly a liability but is suicidal – so by the paradoxical rules of the game cannot be murdered.
This leads inevitably to the tragic blood-spattered conclusion (reminiscent of Hamlet), though with the faintest glimmer of ironic hope as the one character who survives is the one who most wanted to die. Bruges is the glorious backdrop to a series of surreal and apparently random events involving Harry, a midget, a drug dealer film distributor, her boyfriend and various other-worldly oddballs – including a fat Canadian tourist and a bizarre cashier at one of the local museums, whose arrogance is punished when he crosses Harry (he won’t do that again in a hurry, if ever.)
For all the fact that there are bloody scenes, a great deal of creative swearing, drug and sexual references, in fact something to offend practically everyone, and not a plot line designed to overburden the viewer with details, In Bruges is a minor but hugely likeable movie, whose motto is stated very near the end:
“You’ve got to stick to your principles.”
This proves that no matter how vicious you are, everyone is regulated by their own internal police service. To your own standards no hypocrisy can be tolerated; transgress the rules and you have to pay the penalty.