After the hit in London, the two gunmen have been sent abroad to Bruges until the situation cools off - or so they think. The younger one, Ray (Colin Farrell) cannot think of a worse place to be sent, as to him the city represents everything boring about Europe with its tasteful, medieval architecture and nothing to do all day but visit it as one of the many tourists there. The elder, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), has other ideas and is looking forward to drinking in the culture, eager to take his friend on an improving jaunt around the sights, yet all Ray really wants to do is leave. And so they wait for the instructions from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes)...
Here's a little film that caught quite a few viewers by surprise, as the title gives nothing away, and the subject matter - yet another gangster movie - didn't sound too promising in light of how many other works had trod the same path before; the law of diminishing returns might have set in here. However, writer and director Martin McDonagh, whose playwright background revealed itself in the way the cast relished their excellent dialogue, found a fresh angle on what could have been the same old men with guns formula, and he did that by placing the story in a religious context.
Ray and Ken are effectively awaiting judgement for their sins, and although we never see Ken kill anyone, we know thanks to a flashback that Ray has, in the course of performing the hit on the priest they were sent to target, accidentally killed a child who was praying in the church there. McDonagh makes us fully aware he did not murder the child, so we can be allowed some degree of sympathy with him, but it's a shaky line to be walking, and it's well seen that we spend a good half hour in Ray's company so that we get to like him before we find out what it is he is running away from. Still, once we know what he has done, we begin to wonder if we should be anticipating a punishment on him.
Or more than anticipating, should we be welcoming it? In Bruges is in effect a morality story dressed up with trendy swearing and violence (though not much sex), and while that's not always to its advantage, as it does lead to an overly manufactured method of wrapping everything up, neither does it beat the audience over the head with its adherence to the rights and wrongs of sin and redemption. Don't go thinking this gets too heavy for its own good, for though things take a turn for the serious - for Ray and Ken, at any rate - there are plenty of witty lines and enough absurd situations to make this qualify at least partly as a comedy. If this does seem familiar to an extent, it's because it adopts the same tone as the earlier cult hit Sexy Beast.
To the point where Fiennes is essentially doing a cover version of Ben Kingsley's performance in that film, something McDonagh and company seem all to aware of thanks to a reference to Gandhi in one line. That said, there must be something about the character of a malevolent gangster that brings out the best in posh British thesps, as Fiennes makes the role his own, and even though Harry shows up in Bruges alone to sort things out, you can accept that he is a major threat to the two hitmen who have let him down. The rest of the story is about offering the characters a way of atoning for their sins, making their peace with God, before the inevitable occurs and their pasts catch up with them, and while nobody in this is pious, it's as if the centuries-old Christian surroundings, which does not seem to have updated its views on sin and forgiveness in that time, forces the three to meet their day of reckoning. Music by Carter Burwell.