'If I'd grown up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, so it doesn't."
So grumbles Ray (Colin Farrell), the disgruntled half of a hitman duo in hiding in the Belgian burg that gives its name to Martin McDonagh's bloody, entertaining yarn, In Bruges. Ray has reason to feel bad - even as he and his partner in crime, Ken (burly Brendan Gleeson), explore the canals, cafes, and cobblestones of this picture-postcard medieval town. Back in London, a killing had gone terribly wrong. To say that Ray is steeped in guilt and remorse is to put it mildly.
Not much is put mildly in In Bruges, however. The thing teems with goofball patter and profanity, violent bursts of gunfire, and jokes at the expense of dwarfs and Americans. Playwright McDonagh (The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) makes a crackingly good film debut, steering his odd couple Irishmen through a series of strange encounters in which questions of honor, friendship and mortality are mulled.
In Bruges, at its best, works like Pulp Fiction with Irish (and Belgian) accents, digressing into weird discourse and giving a bunch of actors the occasion to shine in small, peculiar roles. A Bruges gun dealer portrayed by Eric Godon gets considerable mileage out of simply repeating the word alcove, while the fetching Clémence Poésy - as a Bruges native Ray meets on a film set - plays seductive, deceptive and ultimately decent-hearted to winning effect.
Jordan Prentice, a little person with big, fierce eyes, stars as Jimmy, an actor from the film-within-a-film, and a coke fiend and connoisseur of prostitutes, to boot. Jimmy's stoned-out rant about the impending race wars that will decimate Earth is remarkable for its dark madness.
And Ralph Fiennes, finding himself in an uncharacteristically seamy setting, plays Ray and Ken's boss, a mean-spirited bloke who talks in Michael Caine cadences and arrives in Bruges to make sure some nasty business is taken care of.
But In Bruges is Farrell's and Gleeson's, and the two are marvelous. McDonagh has figured out how to use Farrell's twitchy energy and brooding charisma in ways previous directors have not, and the actor is funny, truly funny, for the first time, too.
Gleeson, who starred in McDonagh's Oscar-winning short, "Six Shooter," a few years ago, has an amiable air and an open curiosity that seem at odds with the requirements of his character's profession. But the scenes of Ken trolling the city, guidebook in hand, happily taking in Bruges' charms, provide some of the film's finest moments.
In the end, In Bruges is a bit arch and artificial, but it is more than redeemed by Farrell and Gleeson's presence, and by the bushwhacking wit of the film's writer/director.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.