Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri director Martin McDonagh's debut film In Bruges is a stellar dark comedy

Abhinav Jai Singh

Feb,08 2018 19:48:18 IST

Editor's note: In Bruges was released ten years ago, on 8 February, 2008. We take a look back at why the movie is now a classic and a perfect way to introduce writer-director Martin McDonagh.

"After I killed them, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off my hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter, the instructions came through. "Get the f**k out of London, yous dumb fu**s. Get to Bruges." I didn't even know where Bruges fuc**ng was. It's in Belgium."

As soon as In Bruges starts, it sucks you in.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges is a delight for anyone who savors dark comedy. The story revolves around two hit-men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who have been asked by their short-tempered, foul-mouthed East End mob boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to get to Bruges. Ray — a childish, unfocused, irritable and highly combustible individual — hates Bruges as soon as he steps foot in the city.

Ken — who is likable, mild-mannered, organized and patient — falls in love with the medieval Belgium city. He, with a map in hand and an unfettering glow on his face, is like someone's dad who couldn't get enough of all the sightseeing. The two coldblooded killers, who are quite the opposite of each other, have to live in the town famous for its chocolates for two weeks in the same hotel room. It's almost Christmas, and Bruges, with its dreamy architecture, Gothic buildings, and cobbled streets, makes you feel like you're in a fairy-tale. Everything is quaint, implausibly calm, and unimaginably satisfying. But not for Ray. According to Ray, Bruges is a s**thole. Nothing about the city impresses him. When Ken asks Ray if he wants to go to the top of the tower and enjoy the wondrous view of the city, Ray says, "the view of what? The view of down here? I can see that from down here." He is depressed to no end, and is, inarguably, the worst tourist in the world.

A still from In Bruges/Image from YouTube.

A still from In Bruges/Image from YouTube.

The unusual pair try to navigate through Bruges in their own ways. Ken wants to look at old buildings, visit famous spots, and take boat rides through the canals. Ray, on the other hand, wants to simply stay hammered. His favorite spot in Bruges is a pub. Any pub. They spend their time trying to keep themselves busy while waiting for Harry to call. Ray, however he may seem to be, is not a cruel, heartless fella. Sure, he kills people for money and has an aggressive, unprovoked hatred towards Americans, but he feels remorse. Ray, who is in Bruges because he blew a little boy's head off, can't live with himself after the incident. While he comes to terms with the sin he committed, he wishes he was in London. Or in Dublin. Anywhere but Bruges.

Martin McDonagh's genius lies in taking what seems beautiful and serene to any normal person, and twisting it around into a deeply unsettling and horrifyingly funny experience. Who would think of Bruges as the setting for a shoot-out between three seemingly crazy hit-men? Only McDonagh would. The writer-director turned a beloved familial city into the playground of the loonies. Harry, the mob boss who has no patience for anything, is all about principles and ideals. Anyone who hurts a little boy must die, he says. If he ever hurt a little boy, he'd kill himself on the spot.

They are killers with a code; a code they stick to religiously. What does that make them? Does it make them better than people who have no ideals and beliefs but have never murdered? Or are they forever damned? The movie tackles the ideas of heaven, hell, purgatory, morality, salvation and redemption. There are no heroes. There are no bad guys. Just highly imperfect and clumsily normal men who have no place to go. They get drunk on local beer, befriend an American midget who's also a Ketamine aficionado, and steal an insane amount of hallucinogens from a Belgian actress.

A still from In Bruges/Image from YouTube.

A still from In Bruges/Image from YouTube.

Martin McDonagh weaves these stories about highly messed up individuals who can claim no moral authority over right and wrong, but, yet, we feel for them. Their flaws make these characters seem extremely relatable, even though none of us have ever shot a little boy or went into a murderous rage. Our blunders are not as crippling as Ray's in In Bruges, but McDonagh's sublime writing make us sympathize with the characters. As the three men — Ray, Ken and Harry — create havoc in the quiet and pretty Belgian town, we can't help bus notice how subtle the humor is; how moving the dialogues are.

"At least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn't be in fu**in' Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me. And I realized, f**k man, maybe that's what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in fu**in' Bruges. And I really, really hoped I wouldn't die. I really, really hoped I wouldn't die."

It doesn't matter how beautiful the streets of Bruges might be on a dark, moonlit night, if you've watched In Bruges, you'll always associate it with morbidity, confusion, debauchery, and Ray's unbridled loathing for the city.

Every movie McDonagh has made since then — Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — is compared to his debut movie In Bruges. McDonagh's brilliance shines through the most troubled, depressing and morose cracks.

From America's gun problem (Harry to a gun-dealer: An UZI? I'm not from South Central Los fu**ing Angeles. I didn't come here to shoot 20 black 10-year-olds in a fu**ing drive-by. I want a normal gun for a normal person), to fat-shaming (Ray to an obese American family: You's a bunch of fu**in' elephants), to hilarious jibes at suicide (Ray to Ken: A great day this has turned out to be. I'm suicidal, me mate tries to kill me, me gun gets nicked, and we're still in fu**in' Bruges!), In Bruges brought back dark comedy in a big way.

Updated Date: Mar 10, 2018 01:28 AM