It's difficult to say whether Martin McDonagh's new film will make you want to head straight to the Belgian city of the title to enjoy the medieval splendour, or stay away to avoid the fate of the three leads. Either way, one would gladly head straight back to the cinema for a second viewing of this hugely enjoyable film. Not since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or perhaps even as far back as Pulp Fiction, has the banter between criminal misfits been this much fun.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, two Irish hitmen sent to lay low in Bruges after a seriously botched job in London. Ray's immediate dislike of the town gives the film some of its best lines. "If I'd grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me," opines Farrell. "But I didn't, so it doesn't." A series of run-ins with local drug dealers, obese tourists and a racist dwarf provide an array of laugh-out-loud moments as Ray and Ken wait for word from their boss, the wonderful Ralph Fiennes.
The beautiful architecture and picturesque charm of Bruges is taken full advantage of by McDonagh, whose background in theatre serves him well in creating the claustrophobic set pieces. It is, however, the perfect marriage between script and casting that is the film's triumph.
In the tight, close quarters of McDonagh's movie, Farrell truly shines, and as Ken, the older and slightly wiser of the pair, Gleeson beautifully communicates the sad nihilism of contract killing. The trio are completed by Harry, a borderline sociopath whose introduction half-way through the film injects an intense energy and humour into a story already brimming with both. Fiennes has played villains before, but he's never had this much fun doing it.
McDonagh's screenplay could easily have come across as far too episodic, a simple series of exchanges and incidents lacking an overall structure. However, by staying focused on his themes of guilt and regret, McDonagh delivers a meaningful narrative without ever sacrificing sheer giddy entertainment.
If the film has a fault, it's that some parts of the story, particularly towards the end, feel forced, added purely to accommodate the plot. But this is a forgivable offence; in all, McDonagh has woven a fine narrative, a study in cinematic storytelling.
Whether or not the tourist board of Bruges is inundated with enquiries in the wake of this movie remains to be seen. What is clear is that Martin McDonagh and his cast have made a furiously funny and insightful film that demands to be seen.
Paul Ator, Pier controller, London
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