On February 8, 2008, Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges took America by surprise. “If you could hoist a film on your shoulders and parade it through the theater for adulation and hoorays…In Bruges would be the one,” exclaimed Minneapolis Star Tribune. In the ten years since its release, the enthusiasm for this spectacular comedy about two hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), hiding out in a medieval Belgian city has only grown. Like a favorite foreign city, In Bruges seems to surprise and delight with each new visit.
In honor of In Bruges’ tenth birthday, we are celebrating the many ways this comic crime film completely defied our expectations. In 2013, Complex named In Bruges one of the “Best British Comedy Movies of All Time” for the way it wove together its disparate parts to become a “a wholly unique comedy and masterfully written piece of art.”
Before becoming a filmmaker, Martin McDonagh made a name for himself as one of Ireland’s most talented playwrights. In critically acclaimed dramas like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman, McDonagh wrote razor-sharp dialogue that could be clever, comical, and crude all at the same time. None of that verbal dexterity was lost in McDonagh’s first feature film. Naming In Bruges “My Favorite Film,” The Guardian editor Peter Beech exclaims, “The script, as far as I can see, is perfect, embroidering lofty themes with the earthiest of dialogue.”
A new cinematic vision emerges
Based on his plays, most people expected McDonagh’s first feature to have brilliant dialogue. But few expected, as The A. V. Club notes, “his talent for striking visuals, or his talent for balancing whip-crack comedy with expansive character exploration.” With the help of Eigil Bryld’s enchanting cinematography and Carter Burwell’s elegant score, McDonagh proves himself a natural filmmaker, conjuring up in In Bruges a world that is hauntingly beautiful and terrifyingly comic.
Colin Farrell shows his funny side
As Ray, a hitman wrestling with a guilty conscience and poor impulse control, Colin Farrell proves a revelation in In Bruges. Surveying Farrell’s best performances, IndieWire describes how the actor’s “split personality of rugged charm, soulfulness and hair-trigger volatility found its most perfect vehicle to date” in the film’s moody assassin. But even more, In Bruges shows off Farrell’s untapped comic talent, be it in his hilarious facial expressions or his ability to make “McDonagh’s hyperreal, quickfire verbosity…sound as natural as breathing.”
A surprising mix of genres and styles
Like the Gothic city it’s set in, In Bruges contains surprises at every twist and turn. Much of its fun turns up in the way it continually transforms itself, defying any attempt to pin it down to just one film genre. “There’s so much going on in Bruges, and in In Bruges, and it all works,” writes Den of Geek. “It’s a morality play, a dark comedy, a socio-political satire, a gangster thriller, a tourist board advert, and a gothic fairytale all at once.”
You’ll want to visit the actual town
Despite Ray endlessly insulting Bruges, the film's medieval locale is a star all on its own. Visiting the old Belgian city actually inspired the filmmaker. “I was struck by how beautiful it was: unchanged and medieval and gothic—otherworldly,” McDonagh remembers, “and I wondered why it hadn’t been captured on film before.” From its serene canals to its majestic bell tower to its Groeninge Museum, the city is lovingly captured. For those who fall in love with Bruges—as well as In Bruges—tourist sites, like Wonderful Wanderings, provide maps and tours to let one follow in the footsteps of Ray and Ken.