Martin McDonagh’s ‘In Bruges’: Seldom do you come across film debuts this brilliant

Martin McDonagh directs Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson on the set of In Bruges. Photo credit: Jaap Buitendijk. © 2007 Focus Features

Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges was one of the absolute highlights of the previous decade’s cinema and came as a total, gigantic surprise to us, as it was young Irishman’s feature debut. Truth be told, his wonderful 27-minute Six Shooter, which earned him an Oscar in the short film category, cautioned the world that it might be dealing with a potentially extremely talented filmmaker, but we all know not all of successful short film authors deliver on their promise when it comes to feature filmmaking. But In Bruges was so refreshing, such was its screenwriting power and prowess, such brilliant acting it displayed, that it’s very difficult not to regard it as true modern age work of art. We’ve never seen Colin Farrell this convincing, this close to us, this vulnerable and versatile. His screen partnership with experienced and bloody explosive Brendan Gleeson was an honest joy to behold, with Ralph Fiennes chipping in his mesmerizing charisma. For a story this gloomy and somber, the quantity of high quality humor it delivers is pretty unbelievable.

Set in the pittoresque Belgian town of Bruges, it features a heart-warming story filled with imaginatively written characters who constantly spit out lines that are rarely far from hilarious. The idyllic setting of the colorful and painfully charming serves as a nice contrast to the undeniable darkness that lies at the heart of the film, but the overall feeling isn’t that of despair, but of hope and light, of a chance for redemption at a time and place where the soul’s salvation seems positively unlikely. In Bruges is pitch-perfectly shot thanks to prestigious Danish cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the sentimental musical score was delivered by Miller’s Crossing‘s Carter Burwell and the script, the very soul of In Bruges and the chief source of its greatness, was written by McDonagh himself. Seldom do you come across film debuts this brilliant.

Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Martin McDonagh’s screenplay for In Bruges [PDF1PDF2]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

 
For writer/director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges began to take shape in Bruges during a weekend in the city. Located in Belgium, about an hour from Brussels, Bruges was an trading city in the Middle Ages, after which it became wealthy. Its fortunes waned, but its historic architecture, art, and canals remained, and at the end of the 19th century, it became a popular tourist center. McDonagh remembers, “While I was first there, about 4 years ago, I had diverging feelings about the place. I started thinking of two characters who might respond to Bruges in distinct ways, and I started writing about them, with specific parts of Bruges for them to interact in and around.” Producer Graham Broadbent thought the script was “an amazing piece of writing—dazzling dialogue with a compelling story and wonderful roles.” On visiting Bruges itself, you could see that it would be an additional character in the story; the city has such heightened atmosphere and its so picturesque, whichever way you pointed a camera, it was going to look extraordinary. —In Bruges: Making of Movie in the Famous Belgian City 

“With In Bruges, we had three weeks of rehearsal at the start, which was pretty much just him, Colin Farrell and me in a room in Bruges, just analyzing the script, talking and reading it through and acting out little scenes, talking about the histories of the characters: how they met, were they related. [It was] a pretty intense amount of work which meant by the first day of shooting, there weren’t any questions we needed to ask of each other, we just went ahead and filmed everything that we’d learnt.” —Martin McDonagh

So how does a famous playwright goes on writing and directing a feature starring a city as the main character, and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes as supporting characters?

10 THINGS ABOUT MAKING IN BRUGES AND MARTIN McDONAGH

  • Terrence Malick is one of his heroes
  • A masterpiece from Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now, was one of the biggest influence as a film, using a town as a character
  • It’s after having spent a week-end in Bruges that McDonagh decided to use it as a character in a film
  • McDonagh had cleared In Bruges budget before winning the Oscar for Best Short Film
  • In Bruges took 2 years from writing to promoting it
  • Ray and Ken were originally from London
  • McDonagh rehearsed three weeks in Bruges with Gleeson and Farrell, and the shooting lasted seven and half weeks
  • McDonagh didn’t change a single line in his script during rehearsal
  • Post-production started six months before shooting
  • McDonagh got rid off the characters’ backstory during editing, cutting 40 minutes of film out of the final cut

To learn more, watch the full interview below, courtesy of Mentorless.


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“I remember on the short film, Six Shooter, there was a scene the producers wanted to cut because we were running behind schedule. I was a bit of a wuss and said ‘OK,’ but then I told Brendan that we were cutting a scene. Literally five minutes later, the producers came to me and said, ‘The scene’s back in.’ He’d gone and said, ‘If you cut this scene, I’m walking.’ It turned out to be the best scene in the short, the one where he’s arguing with the kid who’s got the trolley on the train.” —Martin McDonagh

A black and bloody Irish comedy about a sad train journey where an older man, whose wife has died that morning, encounters a strange and possibly psychotic young oddball…

2006 Academy Awards (Oscar)—Best Short Film, Live Action—Winner
2005 BAFTA Awards—Best Short Film—Nominee


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Director Martin McDonagh with cast and crew on the set of In Bruges. Still photographer: Jaap Buitendijk © 2007 Focus Features.

 
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