Playwright Martin McDonagh makes an impressive feature film debut as the writer and director of this tragicomedy as rich, dark, and complex as Belgian chocolate. The story unfolds over the course of a few days, as Irish hitmen Ken (the appealingly bear-like Brendon Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell, in a loose and sympathetic performance) are ordered to lay low in the tourist-laden town of Bruges, Belgium, after a bungled shooting back home. Their only directive is to stay grounded and wait for further orders from crime boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes, gleefully playing evil), but both underlings--nervous and delightfully talky--chafe with the waiting. The childlike Ray is inconsolably antsy and withdrawn, and after a time we learn that his restlessness is borne of something deeper and more disturbing than mere ADD. The more paternal and patient of the duo, Ken, takes the opportunity to enjoy Bruges's lush, buttressed beauty, but he, too, undergoes some soul-searching by movie's end.
The plot snakes cleverly (and at times touchingly) around flashbacks of the Dublin murder as the garrulous killers philosophize and interact with locals and tourists, including an acerbic American dwarf, the proprietress of the B&B, Dutch prostitutes, and a local enchantress. McDonagh's absurdist black humor asserts itself as hilarious dialogue and dreamlike visuals (supported by Carter Burwell's unsettling score) that shift seamlessly from sweet to grotesque, like a Grimm's fairytale come to the big screen. McDonagh's command of the film medium puts to rest any reservations about playwrights-turned-directors. Viewers who can accept the somewhat contrived situation presented here will enjoy the crackling banter, vibrant performances, and beautiful scenery.
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