Reviews - In Bruges
Reviewed By John Stakes
McDonagh, as theatre goers in and around Keswick will know, is the playwright of "The Lonesome West" which has been enthusiastically received by the Studio Theatre audience throughout the current season, and his plays come garnered with several awards. He has been described as having a cinematic approach to theatre so it was hardly surprising that he would eventually turn his eye to the big screen.
What a brilliant debut! McDonagh succeeds in blending his theatrical skills with an acute cinematic eye to conjure up an original, provocative, intelligent, and extremely witty screenplay, which he directed with an audacious flair in part homage to Nicholas Roeg, Tarantino, and Cohen Bros, but including some highly original flourishes of his own.
The extensive use of profanities throughout punctuated but never punctured the crackling dialogue. As in his Studio play McDonagh plays the humour card to open up the humanity of his characters, and disarm the audience’s initial resistance to the far from attractive attributes of Irish low life (in this case in the form of two hit men). Roy (Colin Farrell at his best) is revealed as a young man haunted by his accidental killing of a young boy during his first contract killing)and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) emerges as a caring mentor with a love of history.
The sharp edge of this blackest of comedies is brilliantly maintained so that the audience retains its sympathy with these armed devils whilst McDonagh takes them on their journey through the narrow streets and canals of a hauntingly beautiful Bruges to the denouement of the inevitable tragedy of their disfigured lives. En route he revels in the freedom of the camera to plunder what becomes the terrifying beauty of the city as the backdrop to a succession of Hitchcockian scenes of which the master of suspense would have been proud complete with a vertiginous bell tower sequence. As with Hitchcock the black humour is deployed both to relieve and heighten tension before shunting the audience into the horror of the graphic violence which was an integral part of Ray and Ken’s lives.
McDonagh laced his comedy-drama with issues surrounding guilt, redemption, hypocrisy and responsibility so the moral arguments were no less challenging than the visual and verbal assaults on our senses. For the three main protagonists Bruges descended from the picturesque to become the embodiment of the end of the world as depicted in "The Last Judgement" painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Farrell Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes clearly relished their parts and were fully supported by an ill-assorted bunch of the morally and physically challenged. During this inexorable descent into hell, McDonagh maintained total control and treated the audience to one of the best British films of recent years.
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