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Character-driven “In Bruges” is a reminder of what makes movies so good

Updated: Jan 9, 2023


(1) Acclaimed Irish actors Brendan Gleeson, left, and Colin Farrell play hitmen sent to Belgium by their boss in London and ordered to lay low in Bruges after a job goes tragically wrong. (2) Ken comforts Ray, who is racked with guilt over the hit.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 2008, rated R for strong, bloody violence, pervasive language, and some drug use Best extra: “When in Bruges,” one of four short features

SO MANY MOVIES these days are wrapped up in whiz-bang computer trickery and copycat stories by committee, you can forget sometimes that the very best, the ones that stay with you, are driven by three-dimensional characters who register with the audience. Movies like “In Bruges.” In retrospect, that’s no surprise. Writer/director Martin McDonagh was an established playwright with a pair of Laurence Olivier Awards and four Tony nominations when he made his feature-film debut about two Irish hitmen who, after a job goes tragically wrong, are sent to Belgium by their boss back in London and ordered to lay low in the picture-postcard, medieval city of Bruges (it’s pronounced “broozh”). McDonagh’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. (He won for the 2006 short feature “Six Shooter” and was up for writer and director for 2017’s memorable “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” That film was named Best Picture, while Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell took home the Best Actress and Supporting Actor awards.) That’s no surprise, either.

(1&2) Ken, the more seasoned and practical of the two, is happy to take in the sights on a boat trip around Bruges while Ray, restless and impulsive, only wants to get back to London. (3-6) A stunning medieval city of canals, cobbled streets, and architectural marvels, Bruges plays as significant a role as anyone in the cast. (7) Ken tries to convince Ray to climb a tower overlooking the city.

Colin Farrell (“The New World”) has never been better as Ray, the impulsive, novice hitman who accidentally kills a young – no spoilers – when he guns down a priest (Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast”) after confessing to the murder beforehand. And Brendan Gleeson (“The General”), who plays Ken, his seasoned, rational partner, is as steady as they come. Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient”) also gets top billing as Harry, their ruthless boss who’s only heard on the phone for the first part of the film, making his arrival in Bruges all the more ominous. You may have guessed that Ray and Ken aren’t cookie-cutter Hollywood gangsters. Farrell and Gleeson’s chemistry is the real deal, thanks in no small part to McDonagh’s decision to rewrite their characters as Irish (both actors were born in Dublin), rather than make them British. And while the comedy couldn’t be blacker, these characters, despite what they do, are fragile. They’re torn by guilt and regret and, in the end, are redeemed. Even Harry adheres to a code of honor. The other major player is Bruges itself, a stunning city of cobbled streets, canals, and architectural marvels whose most famous landmark, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, was built in the 1100s. In the short feature “When In Bruges,” Martin remembers being awestruck when he visited the city several years earlier, but admits that after a couple of hours walking around it he was bored. Ken is happy to soak up the history. Ray only wants to get back to London. “He (McDonagh) took his two perspectives and wrote them into our characters,” Farrell says.

(1-3) Clémence Poséy is the drug-dealing Chloe, whose relationship with Ray affords him a kind of salvation. Jordan Prentice plays Jimmy, an American actor shooting a movie in Bruges, and Thekla Reuten is the innkeeper Marie. There isn’t a false note among the excellent supporting cast. (4-5) As the story progresses, Ray and Ken’s backgrounds and motivations are revealed.

Kudos to the supporting cast, too. Clémence Poséy as the drug-dealing Chloe, Jordan Prentice, who plays the actor Jimmy, Eric Godon as the gun dealer Yuri, and Thekla Reuten, who plays the pregnant innkeeper Marie, are all excellent. Same goes for every other actor in even the smallest roles. There isn’t a false note among them. And McDonagh and cinematographer Eigil Bryld (“Kinky Boots”), who color-coded and approved the 4K master, make Bruges as much a character as anyone in the credits. This is no travelogue, though you’ll want to put a visit on your bucket list. VIDEO/AUDIO Kino Lorber scores again: In a word, “In Bruges” (2.35:1 aspect ratio) looks fantastic. Even though it was sourced from the 2008 Focus Features 2K master of the original Super 35 film format, everything – from the swans in the canals and ornate architecture to Ray’s stubble and the blood on Ken’s cheeks – is crystal clear. The enclosed Blu-ray includes a new SDR color grading, but can’t match the clarity of the 4K disc and its overall brightness levels, which max at 1036 nits and averages at 323 nits.

The 4K/HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading comes through in the nighttime sequences, too, with deep blacks and sharp contrasts. The muted palette never gets murky and there’s just enough grain to make the at-home experience truly cinematic.

The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track also rises to the occasion. The exceptional dialogue doesn’t get lost in the mix, the explosive gunfire kicks you square in the gut, and the wonderful, emotive score by Carter Burwell (“Three Billboards”) delivers at every turn. EXTRAS All of them have been carried over from an earlier release and are housed on the Blu-ray disc. Besides “When In Bruges,” the other featurettes are “F***ing Bruges,” a funny, rapid-fire compilation of the film’s plethora of profanities, the self-explanatory “A Boat Trip Around Bruges,” and “Strange Bruges,” in which McDonagh expands on why he wanted to set a movie there. It also includes brief interviews with Farrell, Fiennes, and production designer Michael Carlin (“The Duchess”). You’ll also find deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and interviews that were cut from the featurettes. Craig Shapiro

Footnote: McDonagh has reunited with Gleeson and Farrell in the upcoming “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which is getting rave reviews from critics.

(1) Ray’s first job, a hit on a priest (Ciarán Hinds in an uncredited role), ends in a tragedy that changes his life. (2) Ray and Chole have dinner after meeting on the film set. (3-4) A confrontation looms between the partners. (5) Ralph Fiennes plays the ruthless crime boss Harry, who nonetheless adheres to a code of honor.


(1) Chloe and Ray’s relationship deepens. (2-4) Harry picks up a gun from Yuri (Eric Godon) and later tracks down Ray at the hotel.



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