“Prison… death… didn’t matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in fuckin’ Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realised, fuck man, maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin’ Bruges. And I really really hoped I wouldn’t die.”
In Bruges was one of those films that defied expectations. Although it did not do so well at the box office, it went on to achieve cult status in later years, and now perhaps has transcended that as well, being recognised as a truly great piece of cinema. When it was due for release its marketing let it down, the trailers made it seem to be a mixture of either a straight gangster thriller or an expletive-laced comedy about what two hit-men get up to while on holiday. On some level In Bruges is both of these things, but it is also so much more than that. It is both melancholic and despairing, emotional and contemplative, but also features some real gory moments. It is a gangster film, but these are not your traditional gangsters.
Colin Farrell’s (The Lobster, Dumbo) performance as the suicidal hit-man Ray, at odds with himself since his accidental killing of a young boy, is breathtaking and the audience is completely drawn into his spiral of self-hatred and despair. At a time where Farrell was more known for his big budget flop, Alexander, and a string of incidents rumoured to involve sex, drugs and alcohol, he proved that he deserved to be nominated for, and to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance, and it remains one of his standout roles now, eleven years later.
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Farrell is bolstered by a strong supporting cast including the likes of Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) as Ray’s enraged boss Harry, and Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Chloe, the beautiful Bruges local who works as a thief and drug dealer, but it is his shared scenes with Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Cold Mountain) that truly make the film. Gleeson is Ken, the older and wiser hit-man who has been instructed by their boss to take Ray to Bruges before killing him for his mistake. The byplay between the two men, both at odds with being in Bruges, although for different reasons, generates some truly comedic moments, but their heartfelt scenes also tug at your heartstrings. Ken’s unwillingness to kill Ray, on realising that the younger man is suicidal, and his efforts to try and save him from Harry make this feel all the more human.
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The themes of Purgatory, salvation, and damnation run throughout the film. Ray and Ken go to view the Hieronymus Bosh triptych ‘The Last Judgement’ and also a supposed vial of Christ’s blood in a church, and Ray comes to believe that the city itself is Purgatory while he wrestles with the decision of whether he wants to live or die.
In Bruges is one of those films that sticks with you long after viewing, its ambiguous ending about Ray’s final fate, and the depth to the characters within it keep it being a conversation starter. It is a joy to learn that a Limited Edition Blu-ray release of the film is coming from Second Sight Films. When first released the film came with the deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a literal boat trip around Bruges. Sparse offerings indeed. Now fans will be able to watch new interviews with various members of the crew, and see on set footage in six new features. There will also be McDonagh’s Oscar winning short film, Six Shooter, a copy of the screenplay, and a 50 page book to provide even more insights into this exceptionally clever film. If you’ve not seen In Bruges before then it’s time to, and if you have, it’s definitely worth a revisit.
In Bruges is available on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.