In Bruges review – superb role for Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh’s cracking comedy-noir

Farrell has brought his A-game – moody, funny, lethally sexy – opposite Brendan Gleeson, as they play hitmen waiting for instructions in the Belgian city

Here are four words I never thought I'd write, not since his career seemed to wilt with pure embarrassment under his blond wig and shorty tunic in Oliver Stone's Alexander. Colin Farrell is back. Despite appearing in films by some heavy-hitters (Malick, Mann, Allen) he'd been off-radar for a bit and the celeb-o-meter was cooling. It looked as if the great man might have to return from Hollywood like Napoleon from Moscow, with snow on his boots and egg on his face. He may have been growling and sulking in his trailer while the world's media swooned over James McAvoy. Who knows? But make no mistake: Farrell has brought his A-game to this cracking little comedy-noir written and directed by Martin McDonagh. He is absolutely superb: moody and funny, lethally sexy, sometimes heartbreakingly sad and vulnerable like a little boy. He radiates the star-quality that once made him the world's It Boy, and will do again.

He and Brendan Gleeson, who is also excellent, play Ray and Ken, a couple of Dublin hitmen who have been ordered by their paymaster Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to lie low and await instructions - in Bruges. Their orders are simply to wander around and admire the lovely medieval architecture - in Bruges. Instead of a flashy hotel, they have been booked into one twin room in a chintzy B&B - in Bruges. For quite a lot of the time, the film shows these two moody tough guys having to mill aimlessly about, stupefied and exasperated beyond endurance by the simple, appalling fact that they are in Bruges. The city itself becomes a continuous, mute running gag, and as Ray and Ken snap at each other, McDonagh's whip-smart dialogue hints at Beckett, Tarantino, even Greene. It soon becomes clear that their presence in this epicentre of northern European dullness has something to do with an earlier, catastrophically botched job and a terrible anguish that Ray is carrying in his heart.

Martin McDonagh, an Oscar-winner for his short film Six-Shooter and already an accomplished and acclaimed stage dramatist with plays such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, makes it all look very easy. Just by resentfully mooching about, his leading males are hilarious, tense, scary. And when the eruptions come, they are stunningly plausible. Farrell's tension and paranoia finally uncoil when an American-sounding man complains about cigarette smoke coming from his table at a restaurant. The ensuing punch-up actually gives a clue as to why a screenwriter should want to set a film in Bruges. It's because Belgium is one of those rare countries where smoking is still not banned in public places. Soon, all hardboiled thrillers will be called things like Gangs of Liege, To Live and Die in Antwerp or Sexual Perversity in Mons.

Theatre audiences have long relished McDonagh's brilliant combinations of the bizarre, macabre and tragicomic and it is very exhilarating to see him transfer this talent to the screen, and provide lip-smackingly satisfying roles for his actors. When Ray and Ken finally conclude that Bruges is not a shithole, after all, but a lovely city, secluded and unspoilt because it is marooned in the shithole country of Belgium, this mournful epiphany is hilariously rude and yet strangely moving. In Bruges will be a huge awards-magnet, and soon the silverware will be hitting it with a clang. Farrell personally deserves all the plaudits. And for McDonagh, it is the beginning of a remarkable new career direction.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Fellas like us like to talk about our feelings’: Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson on art, fatherhood and their odd-couple bromance
Everyone’s favourite Irish double act are back together for The Banshees of Inisherin – a film about male friendship that spurs them to reflect on how they instantly bonded 14 years ago

Danny Leigh

21, Oct, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Banshees of Inisherin review – flawless tragicomedy of male friendship gone sour
Three Billboards and In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh reunites Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in this deliciously melancholy tale set in remotest 1920s Ireland

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

23, Oct, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
‘The world is so quick to pull the trigger of judgment’: Colin Farrell praises ‘discourse’ over cancel culture
Actor speaks ahead of Venice premiere of the Banshees of Inisherin, which reunites him with Martin McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson for first time since In Bruges

Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

05, Sep, 2022 @2:58 PM

Article image
The Banshees of Inisherin review – a Guinness-black comedy of male pain
Martin McDonagh reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in remotest Ireland for an oddball study of isolation and hurt

Peter Bradshaw

05, Sep, 2022 @2:45 PM

Article image
My favourite film: In Bruges

In our writers' favourite film series, Peter Beech takes aim at Martin McDonagh's comic caper, in which two Catholic crims lose their cool in Belgium

Peter Beech

18, Nov, 2011 @11:03 AM

Article image
What links Colin Farrell to Sex and the City and a pint of plain?
Brendan Gleeson, Swedish drama and a plate of potted crab bring us all the way back to the rugged west of Ireland

Larry Ryan

22, Oct, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Why The Banshees of Inishiren should win best picture
Martin McDonagh’s well-crafted tragicomedy says something original about our relationships with ourselves. His characters are outlandish but relatable

Paul MacInnes

08, Mar, 2023 @10:37 AM

Article image
The Squid and the Whale review – exquisitely painful divorce comedy
Root-canal-jabbingly uncomfortable, this black comedy from writer-director Noah Baumbach based on his parents' breakup is bittersweet without the sweet

Peter Bradshaw

07, Apr, 2006 @8:28 AM

Article image
Prowling panthers, paranormal spies and vengeful ice-skaters: must-see movies of 2018
The Black Panther roars, Matt Damon shrinks, Aardman go stone age and Jennifer Lawrence takes spying into a new dimension – we preview the best cinema of the new year

Peter Bradshaw

02, Jan, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
The 88 movies we're most excited about in 2015
Think 2014 was a good year for film? Think again. This year is shaping up to be one of the classics. Here’s what’s on our radar

Guardian Film

06, Jan, 2015 @3:23 PM