A Review of Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges”

Just when I was about lose faith in film due to the muck and mire currently overstuffing multiplexes and DVD shelves, In Bruges comes along, out of nowhere, to restore my religion.  First-time feature length director/screenwriter Martin McDonagh hasn’t crafted an earth shaking masterpiece, but he has a made a film that has spoken to me personally.  It tells the type of story that I hope to tell as a novelist.  It features sharp writing that I aspire to and smart directing I wish there was more of in Hollywood.  It combines elements from two of my favorite writers: Graham Greene’s religious and deeply psychological study of the criminal mind, and David Mamet’s too cool f-bomb laden verbal sparring.  Finally, it showcases three of my favorite things: trails of blood running down cobblestone streets, beautiful French actresses (Clemence Poesy), and midgets (I mean dwarves).  Why is it I want to visit Bruges now?

CAPTION:  “Oh, remember that guy we killed…IN BRUGES!  Good times, good times.”

“They’re Filming Midgets…”, 16 February 2008
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

…in Bruges. Two Irish hit men (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) are sent into hiding by their British boss (Ralph Fiennes) in Bruges, Belgium after a botched job only to learn that the most damning job awaits one of them just around the corner. Bruges is a picturesque tourist trap built around the oldest and best maintained medieval city in Belgium. Director and screenwriter Martin McDonagh bleeds the setting and the material for all its worth and makes his feature film debut in superb style.

The dark comedy built around the existential quandaries of hit men has been done to death over the years. If last summer’s You Kill Me was the relentlessly dark and relentlessly sitcom-y take on the genre, then In Bruges is the hipster art film take on the theme. McDonagh deserves all the credit in the world for breathing life into the stale story by texturing the tonal shifts with crisp digital camera-work (that is surprisingly haunting), deep character development, and by creating a wonderful sense of place. Imagine a Graham Greene novel (Brighton Rock specifically comes to mind) modernized by David Mamet. The dialog is super smart and wickedly un-PC while the comedy parts are as gut-busting as the crime thriller parts are suspenseful.

McDonagh has also brought together an outstanding cast who thrive in the material. Farrell defies all odds and manages to be as sympathetic in the dramatic parts as he is charmingly sarcastic in the comedic parts. Brendan Gleeson gives a fantastically nuanced portrayal as Farrell’s mentor and friend. Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes channels the scary-as-hell energy he’s used previously in Schindler’s List and the recent Harry Potter films in a limber subversion that is a frighteningly fun to watch. The supporting cast is to die for, with Jordan Prentice spot-on as a coked-up dwarf actor shooting an abhorrent art film on the streets of Bruges, and Clemence Poesy coyly seductive and unforgettable as Farrell’s unlikely local love interest.

Ultimately In Bruges meanders down too many cobblestone paths, and one scene near the end involving a bell tower stretches credibility but adds necessary dramatic effect. Certain plot elements will turn off a large segment of the viewing audience. However, those with the right mindset will be greatly rewarded.  In Bruges is hilarious, contemplative, sometimes scathing, often nihilistic, but marked by a shockingly hopeful undercurrent while tones shift and the colors of the human condition undulate in McDonagh’s insightful light. The arrival of a commanding talent has been heralded…in Bruges.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:




  1. I’m glad you also enjoyed Bruges. Great cast, direction and review…Want to visit?

    I would definitely be like the Brendan Gleeson character and visit all those historic sites and churches–amazing architecture! –DHS

  2. Howdy David!

    Long time since I dropped-by. I have heard so much about “In Bruges” from you (your site) that I almost thought you are over-hyping it. Finally, I got to see it y’day. I am at a loss for words. It was simply superb. Like you said, one of the best screenplays in modern cinema.

    I always love the Brits’ sense of humour. But In Bruges went way ahead and metamorphosed that humour into dark humour. I instantly connected (although I am no hitman) with the psyche of those characters. The dark streak of humour that runs till the very end, the ‘Poesy’ feel of the movie and the great performances by everyone involved. Even the ‘ticket-seller’ was funny as hell. Whoa! I haven’t enjoyed a movie so much in such a long time now.

    Thanks David. For recommending this and so many such great movies on your site. It’s been a learning and fruitful experience just watching you write and rave about these movies; specially because in many areas, my tastes match with yours.

    Prakash, I had a feeling you would love this! Would you believe I didn’t even want to see it when it initially came out? The trailers here in the States made it look like some bad Guy Ritchie style hipster action comedy – but my friend talked me into it – and, well, the rest is history! Love, love, love this film – and it holds up great on repeats. –DHS

  3. It released here too back in 2008 but it went off the theaters as silently as it came without a trace. So I never got to see it then.

    Speaking of Guy Ritchie, although I am no fan of his movies, I still like some of the silly humour in his movies and some of the plot arrangements. So initially, I too got this feeling that In Bruges is probably yet another Guy-Ritchie-Swearing-Cussing movie. But a few minutes into the film and I knew this one’s not gonna disappoint me.

    I think the reason why we, as writers, love this movie is because of the CRISP writing/script. Every character is well etched and is there for a reason. Every little incident is vital to the entire movie and adds meaning. It’s all so well interconnected. There are no loose-ends and no parts jutting out. That’s exactly how a good writer would think: keep his writing crisp, simple, short and without-any-flab.

    BTW, I’m right now downloading the director’s short film Six Shooter. I’m hoping it’ll be good.

    I wonder if McDonagh is working on another feature right now. I haven’t seen his original short film yet! –DHS

    • I just saw his short film 6 Shooter. It’s as good as a short film can be. His next feature, as per Wikipedia, is probably Seven Psychopaths. Let’s hope it hits the screens soon.

      Sounds promising! Let’s hope so. –DHS

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