Going boom In Bruges


When I was young, I directed Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guilderstan are dead. It was a play about death against a background of Hamlet, and all the bewildering people of the time lent their influence. There was Kafka from before, there was Pinter and there was Joe Orton. But in the end it was Tom Stoppard’s play.

Stoppard’s work was about two minor players from Hamlet, who go on a journey to their death which has been ordered. The landscape is bleak and all the two have his words.

In Bruges, directed by Martin McDonagh, has Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson sent to the beautiful Belgium city by a little seen Ralph Fiennes. McDonagh, who won an Oscar, has a story about two hoodlums who are ordered to hide out in the ancient Belgian town of Bruges after a hit gone somehow wrong; yes, the younger hoodlum is a rude hothead who can’t stand the staid old place, while the older one is more patient and appreciative; yes, the master of the hoodlums goes mondo bonkers after things don’t go the way he wants and he’s then forced to come after the duo; yes, there is much running, swearing and shooting. For all its very snappy dialogue and daringly crass humour, In Bruges aims to be about, in one character’s words, “guilt and sins and hell and all that”.

Robert Sims opens yet another window into the story, “‘Don’t get into any f**king trouble. We’re keeping a low profile,’ Ken (Brendan Gleeson) warns fellow hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) when they arrive in Bruges (it’s in Belgium, for those not familiar with the city named 2002’s European Capital of Culture). And for good reason. Back home, Ray botched his first assignment — the assassination of a priest — by also accidentally killing a young boy. Now Ken and Ray are in hiding in Bruges on the orders of their volatile boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). At first, the glum and impatient Ray does as he’s told as he accompanies Ken from one tourist attraction to the next. Ken can’t wait to explore a city that’s rich in history; Ray thinks he’s in purgatory, which isn’t too far from the truth, metaphorically speaking. But Ray soon cheers up when he wanders onto a film set and scores a date with Chloë (Clemence Poesy). Unfortunately, Ray should have heeded Ken’s words, because Chloë brings with her nothing but trouble. By associating with Chloë, Ray soon finds himself at odds with her skinhead boyfriend (Jeremie Renier) and a little-person actor (Jordan Prentice) with a big appetite for drugs. Then comes the phone call Ken’s been dreading from Harry. He’s so pissed with Ray that he orders Ken to knock off his protégé between sightseeing excursions. Not that the reluctant Ken may have to even pull the trigger. Ray’s feeling so guilty about what he’s done that’s he contemplating suicide…”

And it is Sims who sums up McDonagh, “McDonagh gets a kick out of toying with the conventions that have made this sub-genre of the buddy movie so tired. That’s never more evident than during the bloody showdown between Farrell and Fiennes. How often does a foot chase come to a halt so someone can consult a map? Or that a warped sense of what’s right or wrong would seal both characters’ fates? Sending Ken and Ray to Bruges is a stroke of genius. Much is made of the fairy-tale quality of the city, so the violence that follows our fish out of water is in total contrast to the peace and quiet of their surroundings.”