Shropshire Star

Film Talk: Looking Back – Bullets and bottles with In Bruges

With The Banshees of Inisherin hoping for Oscars glory next month, it's time to reflect on another masterful marriage of its stars and director.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in 2008's In Bruges

A black comedy behemoth that stands as one of cinema's most revered modern cult classics, In Bruges marked the feature-length directorial debut of Martin McDonagh – a man now not just famous for 'Banshees', but also for the sublime and multi award-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

He's made a jolly and delicious little number called Seven Psychopaths too. That's a story for another time – though one that will certainly be told (watch this space).

In Bruges, you could say, was where it all began for McDonagh. Only, it wasn't. Though he hadn't previously dipped his toes in the feature-length flick water, McDonagh was an accomplished playwright, and in 2006 he in fact won an Academy Award for his short film, Six Shooter.

Having developed and refined his skill at absurdist black humour with his plays, it would be more accurate to say that In Bruges was the start of McDonagh's destiny being fulfilled, and the wider world being introduced to his genius.

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, In Bruges tells the tale of a pair of London-based Irish hitmen in hiding after a job gone wrong, and the calamitous misadventure that ensues.

Unsurprisingly, In Bruges was filmed in Bruges – a beautiful Belgian city stacked in medieval heritage that reportedly saw quite the boom in tourism following this lil' movie's release.

With Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes all well-established household names, the spotlight was on McDonagh's inaugural feature. But would his style successfully transpose to long-form filmmaking, and would mainstream audiences get behind it?

When an assassination job is botched, hitmen Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson) are instructed by their boss Harry (Fiennes) to lie low for a couple of weeks – and where better to do so than the enchanting Bruges?

Elder statesman Ken takes in the medieval sights, though the charms of Bruges are far less appealing to Ray, bored with the quiet of the quaint and peaceful city.

Be careful what you wish for Ray, you might just get it...

Upon meeting local girl Chloe – a film production assistant and drug dealer – Ray's sojourn in Bruges gets turned up a gear, and he is soon punching fellow tourists, blinding ex-boyfriend's and partying with a dwarf.

Meanwhile, Ken faces a dilemma when he finally receives Harry's awaited instructions and is forced to question his loyalty and principles.

When the top man himself arrives in Belgium, the sleepy city of Bruges sleeps no more...

Praised by critics and audiences across the land, In Bruges went straight into legend and has remained there ever since. With a plot described by hallowed American critic Roger Ebert as one that "cannot be foreseen but only relished", it is a film that has continued to bewitch all comers for 15 years.

For their respective performances, Farrell and Gleeson were both nominated for the Best Actor Golden Globe, with Farrell ultimately bagging the award over his co-star.

A triumphant McDonagh picked up the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for the equivalent Oscar – incidentally one of the nine nominations that The Banshees of Inisherin has picked up for this year's awards.

While the 'Banshees vs Bruges' debate will no doubt continue to rage for some time, the truth is that both films are exquisite, and when viewed in parallel they present a window into the true depth of McDonagh's filmmaking talent – where tone, timing and timbre are always flawlessly deployed.

Good luck Mr M. We're with you. Sláinte!

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