When one of their jobs goes horribly wrong, hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) find themselves inexplicably sent to Bruges, Belgium to await their next assignment. Ken sees the experience as a respite, a treat to enjoy while he can and dives right into the local culture. Ray sees it as a sentence, a trial to endure because he has to and can’t seem to stay out of trouble – starting a bar fight and falling for the wrong girl.
Forced to leave London on the orders of their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), the two constantly banter about town enduring their mini-exile. In reality, their time is a means to discuss the greater issues they both realize are inescapable.
“There was kind of an otherworldliness to it or kind of a hyper-reality to the way the characters spoke,” says Farrell. “I’d never heard characters talk like this at all. I never heard such a level of unbridled honesty and what I thought was originally a lack of subtext. I thought that it was all just so honest, and in rehearsal I found out there was just a plethora of stuff that was happening underneath.”
Still, the film makes us laugh. Ray has his own look on life and a justification for his actions that only he comprehends. At one point he punches a man in the face that he mistakenly thinks is an American and then blurts out, “That’s for John Lennon!”
“We love those characters we meet in life every now and then that have no idea how funny they are,” Farrell explains, “and you aren’t even laughing at them. You are totally laughing with them. They might be bewildered as to why you find them so funny, and they genuinely don’t understand it, but they just have a more unusual outlook on life.”
“There’s such purity to him [Ray], you know?” Farrell adds. “He’s very childlike as well, perfectly honest. There’s no self-censorship or any of that good stuff.”
In any great comedy duo, you need the balance that a good straight man offers. Gleeson fills that order brilliantly. He and Farrell have a fantastic chemistry and rapport in the film.
Farrell lights up as he reminisces, “Brendan was so easy to get along with. He really was. He’s just such a lovely man and such a wonderful artist. There was absolutely no ego on this at all.”
The accidental botching of his last job, and the damage left in its wake, haunts Farrell’s character. The anti-urban, stripped-down environment of Bruges offers little distraction from the moral questions he’s struggling with.
“It was the middle of winter. It was dark every day by four o’clock,” Farrell explains. “There was nobody on the streets so there was this sort of eerie, desolate feel to the place, and that seemed to have a great simpatico with the energy that was coursing through Ray at the time. You look around this beautiful, majestic city and all these incredible buildings and towers, and it kind of felt inordinately lonely.”
Writer and first-time director Martin McDonagh offers an unexpected turn on the genre. The way the characters grapple heady, dark issues regarding their chosen professions using gritty, colorful dialogue is juxtaposed against the scenically beautiful town of Bruges, featured as much as a character in the film as any member of the cast.
“I was just struck by how stunningly cinematic the place was,” says McDonagh. “I always wondered why it hadn’t been used in film before because it is so distinctive and just stunning, really.”
He continues, “If we hadn’t been allowed to film there I’d have scrapped the whole script because it had to be there. It couldn’t be Paris. It couldn’t be Venice. It had to be a place that beautiful and strange, but kind of unknown.”
In Bruges releases in select theaters Feb. 8.