"In Bruges" (2008)

In Bruges

Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 107 minutes
Now Showing this week is In Bruges, a film written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who wrote the play The Pillowman in which I recently played a role. My time in The Pillowman made me want to revisit this film having now had more time to look into McDonagh’s work and his way of telling a story, so I re-watched it with my girlfriend last night (who had not seen it before). And I must say, I loved it just as much as I did the first time I watched it. But I do have some quarrels which will later come to light.
In Bruges tells the story of two Irish hit men based in London named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who, upon completing a hit in London, have been told by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in the Belgian town of Bruges. Bruges is a small, medieval style town filled with beautiful churches, museums and cobbled streets and it is very much enjoyed by the cultured Ken but loathed by the party boy Ray. It is clear that something went wrong on their last job and that they have been sent to hide in Bruges for a reason, but that reason is not initially apparent and is an excellent twist that I shan’t reveal. As a result, we have a fantastic dynamic between the two lead characters. Their cultural conflicts of Ken wanted to take a trip by the canal whilst all Ray wants to do is drink and get the hell out of Bruges.What follows is a hilarious yet heart breaking story about redemption of past misdeeds and honour. 
Now, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that Martin McDonagh is my favourite playwright. And the reason he is my favourite playwright is that he has this wonderful ability to combine fantastic comedic timing and situations in amongst stories of such tragedy and horror. He can have you in a state of intense fear and sadness, and then suddenly throw in a new element that makes you laugh a ridiculous amount, only then to go back to such crushing horror. As an example (with spoilers taken out as much as possible), at one point, two characters are running through the streets of Bruges, one shooting a gun at the other one as they go. The man being shot at reaches his hotel, runs past the pregnant owner, goes into his room and grabs his gun. When he returns to the corridor, he hears the shooter arguing with the pregnant women about wanting to go up and shoot the man. What follows is a discussion of how they can continue their shoot out without harming the pregnant women, and they come to the agreement that one of them will jump out the window, while the other one runs around the building to follow. They do so, leaving the pregnant woman completely bewildered and the intense action resumes. So that’s an example of the kind of comedy McDonagh works with. He works with moments of such intense, adrenaline fueled conflict and then puts a ridiculous/absurd element into it, then once the absurd overcome the conflict resumes. The way he does this is so seamless that it’s brilliant.
But, upon re-watching this film, I wonder if the absurdity isn’t appealing to most people? Or at least to film watchers, because this style of humour was very positively (and audibly so) received by audiences who saw the production of The Pillowman I performed in. However, when I was watching it last night I, who had seen the film before, was laughing out loud throughout a lot of the jokes, whilst my girlfriend was very quiet, giving the occasional chuckle here and there. I have had this awkward experience when watching In Bruges with other people as well, that I laugh quite openly but others do not. From what I’ve gathered from feedback is that, in a film the actors cannot take pauses and let the audience laugh openly before they continue to speak so that none of the dialogue is missed, like they can in a play, and I guess I would have to agree. In In Bruges, the characters do speak very quickly, often quietly due to being in museums and such, and in very thick Irish accents so to laugh louder then the TV’s sound would be very easy to do and one could miss vital plot/scene information. McDonagh’s plot-lines can be quite complicated and information isn’t often shown, it more has to be gathered from the dialogue. 
So it seems to me that while McDonagh’s style of combining complex, dark stories with very witty humour is absolutely fantastic and should be loved by all, I can see how it may not belong in a film context. Every audience is different and some might react more openly to humour than others. With a play, the actors can adapt on the fly and either pause a little to let a laugh happen or grab the audiences attention with louder speaking so as the story can continue with no dialogue being missed. A film does not have this luxury unfortunately, so perhaps McDonagh’s genius may never be able to be fully integrated with it. Maybe complicated, intelligent and twisted plot-lines can never be fully combined with fast and witty humour in film. Perhaps that’s something that can only happen on the stage. I certainly hope not, but I recommend you all go out and see In Bruges and make up your minds for yourself. I definitely think it works and that it’s brilliant and everyone should love it. But what do you think? Discuss!
See you next time!
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