For those who might not know the name, director Martin McDonagh is an Irish playwright who won the Oscar last year for his short film "Six Shooter" about a chance encounter on a train, and that film's star Brendan Gleeson has returned as Ken, one of two hit men sent to the medieval city of Bruges in Belgium along with his partner Ray (Colin Farrell) to rest and lay low after a hit gone horribly wrong. Ray is a miserable bastard who makes it clear he's not happy about being in Bruges, but Ken convinces him that their boss Harry has a job for them there, as well as allowing them a chance for some sightseeing, none of which improves Ray's mood. Things look up when he meets the beautiful local woman Chloe, played by French actress Clémence Poésy--you may remember her as Fleur Delacore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire--and scores himself a date, which also goes horribly wrong due to Ray shooting off his big mouth. From there things continue to go south as Ray and Ken get into all sorts of messes and meet strange characters, all of whom will play a part in the larger picture.
There aren't too many non-Belgian films set in Belgium, and Bruges is a beautiful but odd place to set an entire movie. You'll probably learn more about the place than you ever need to know as Ken narrates their sightseeing excursions with a few factoids about the place. The entire first act is driven by the chemistry between Farrell and Gleason as they deliver rapid-fire patter that reminds one of McDonagh's background as a playwright, but it makes them as immediately endearing as Vincent and Jules in "Pulp Fiction," allowing for an even bigger impact as things happen to them. Our first encounter with the boys' boss Harry is an expletive filled telegraph and an equally amusing phone conversation with Ken, making it obvious that this is a mobster cut from the same cloth as Ben Kingsley's Don Logan. Those who don't recognize the voice will be thrilled when they learn who plays Harry, because it's a pleasant surprise.
This is easily Colin Farrell's best role and performance in a long time, one that allows him to show a lot of range, not just as the big-mouthed prat we assume Ray to be, but also as a thoughtful man distraught about what happened in London. Having seen the error of his ways, he feels the need to make right, even if he hides it with a lot of complaining and arguments, and that carries over to Gleason's Ken, continuing his great run with McDonagh.
McDonagh has created a clever script that interweaves its small cast of characters into an intricate crime caper that mixes humor, violence and true heartfelt human emotions into a brilliant debut feature. Just when you think you know where things are going, McDonagh throws a sharp curve ball at you and then another, and another, and pretty soon, what started as a two-handed talkie has turned into a hold-your-breath action flick, when Harry turns up in Bruges to rectify some business that Ken has botched. Even so, it never loses what made the first half so charming and entertaining, because McDonagh's impressive dialogue remains at the forefront for the extended confrontation between Ken and Harry. The ending might be somewhat grim for some tastes going by the lightness of what's gone before, but the way everything is tied together makes it all worth it.
Anyone worried that Tarantino and Ritchie's best work might be behind them, can revel in the promise of McDonagh's take on the crime-comedy genre, as this talented filmmaker shows that "Six Shooter" was no fluke and this movie begins what's likely to be a long and promising film career. On top of that, if "In Bruges" doesn't end up being the funniest and most quotable movies of the year, then it should be very close