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Reviews in Retrospect: In Bruges

A superb alternative Christmas film, this crime drama-cum-black comedy is a contemporary fable that examines the nature of morality itself.

In bruge film still

Stunningly filmed at Christmas in the titular medieval city, In Bruges is a 21st century take on a morality play. This tale of outsiders is infused with religious references in both its script and its imagery, thanks to the work of award-winning director and screenwriter Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Seven Psychopaths).

Hitmen Ken, played by the solid and peerless Brendan Gleeson, and Ray, an edgy and seductive Colin Farrell, face a point of crisis when one of them breaks the moral code and they find themselves in a hideaway in Bruges.

The theme of ‘honour amongst thieves’ is explored through the character of the boss Harry, a smooth, nuanced performance from Ralph Fiennes, who leaves the men’s mission a mystery until the denouement. The film-within-a film, a nativity play of sorts, gives Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) an opportunity to challenge stereotypes, a theme at the heart of In Bruges.

The haunting score of Carter Burwell, noted for his collaborations with the Cohen brothers, captures the fairytale, dream-like quality of the city, brilliantly interwoven with bloody violence in a way that ultimately lends a sense of completeness.

Ray, battling with his Catholic guilt, pursues his lust for life with Chloe (Clémence Poésy), the sexy Belgian girl who has committed crimes of her own. Though a reluctant sightseer, he accompanies Ken, who has an appreciation of the historical aesthetic, to the Groeninge Museum to see the painting of The Last Judgement. This prompts a key conversation, gloriously irreverent, about the nature of good and evil, which continues as they pass over one of Bruges’ famous bridges. This existential thread runs through the film.

The scene on the bridge is as iconic as it is both hilarious and painful. The two actors work their black comedy magic perfectly. There are agonising moments for Ray, increasingly becoming an everyman character in his dilemma, in contrast with Ken, who is protecting his own distressing secret.

The authentic moral ground is held by Marie (Thekla Reuten), co-owner of the guest house where the pair are staying. Her assured identity contrasts with her guests’ struggle for meaning, her pregnancy a symbol of possibility that resonates with Ken’s words, “There’s hope for the boy”.

In Bruges draws on medieval Christian context and an existential framework. Whilst examining individual responsibility, the film leaves us with a Christmas message that is ultimately about love, loyalty and redemption.

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