Playwright Martin McDonagh's full-length feature debut finds Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a pair of Irish hit men who are jettison to the sleepy medieval town of Bruges, Belgium, by their boss (a scary Ralph Fiennes, whose head here resembles a throbbing anvil) after a previous job goes awry.
As fans of his stage work no doubt know, McDonagh is a gifted storyteller who has a way with pungent, profane, often caustically funny dialogue. And he's making progress as a filmmaker, ably employing a variety of film techniques to complement In Bruges' playful elements. The juggling of tones from odd-couple comedy to Catholic-themed drama to violent thriller sometimes threatens to derail the story's distinctive universe, but Farrell, whose curious run as a leading man is justifiably waning, is actually quite believable as the deeply conflicted heart of the film. Paired with the ever-authentic Gleeson, he's right at home in a world of men who live by their own twisted code of honor. While In Bruges' plot becomes a little too mechanical by its final act -- a familiar pitfall for many playwrights who move into screenwriting -- McDonagh has crafted a dark, amusingly eccentric crime thriller that entertains as often as it repels. Curiously, the DVD release offers little by way of extras, which is kind of refreshing in this era of indulgent, often useless "special features." Grade: B-