I like it here, he says quietly in the manner of people who are taken unexpectedly by sudden love of a place

In Bruges

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            It’s Christmas “In Bruges.” Two mob killers have been sent to this beautiful old European city to hunker down for two weeks while waiting for their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to call with marching orders to the next foul job. Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are comically different, and for the first few scenes we enjoy these differences through the marvelously understated dialogue Martin McDonagh has written for them.

            Ken, large of girth and for the moment of heart, lets the beauty of the old city sink into his being. Canals, bridges, bricks, arches, churches - he wants to learn about them and to look at them. Two weeks as a tourist in Bruges have suddenly become his epiphany. “I like it here,” he says quietly in the manner of people who are taken unexpectedly by sudden love of a place.

            Ray, on the other hand, is horrified at even the thought of this “dump” of a place. Old and dead is the way he sees it and he never misses a chance for a slur or a slap at his new surroundings. The joke of it lies in his impossible reactions to the beauty that has been so carefully nurtured for centuries.

            So much for beauty. After handing us the promise of comedy, the movie dives headlong into prolonged mayhem. An old and glorious European city? All the better to splatter its cobblestones with blood. Splat goes a man from the bell tower. Bang goes a priest. Zing goes a bullet through a boy’s head. And that’s to mention just a few.

            But this is a very strange movie, so hear this: nobody cares. In the nearly empty streets of Bruges passersby don’t stop when a dying man crawls across the square. Police don’t swarm when a guard is beaten to death. Whenever someone is shot, he lives and crawls to tell another tale until someone finishes the job. The violence, the murders, the blood – all are presented in the abstract, removed from the landscape where they take place. These men are outside their surroundings.

            Why do Ken and Ray and Harry kill? We will never know. They seem to be amoral and without motivation. The closest we get to their code is that killing a child is out of bounds and will bring retribution from one’s peers. This is a movie where characters are introduced only to vanish. The three main characters are the focus and they never give us the answers we need. Writer/director McDonagh is playing mind games here without feeling the debt of clarity to his audience.

            If you go in spite of this review, enjoy the acting skill of messrs Gleeson and Farrell; both of them would be quite charming and funny if they were anything other than killers without portfolio. And while you soak up the beauty of Bruges, don’t even wonder why its streets are stained in blood. There is no answer here.


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