Release Date(s)2008 (September 27, 2022)
Studio(s)Focus Features/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Writer/director Martin McDonagh made an auspicious feature film debut with In Bruges in 2008, a British crime drama that was a breath of fresh air for a genre that had started to become a bit stale. McDonagh had already worked for over a decade at that point as a well-respected playwright, but after winning an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter in 2006, he discovered that he felt more of an affinity for the cinema than he had ever felt for the theatre. He still authors the occasional play, but he’s gone on to receive even greater acclaim for films like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Banshees of Inisherin. Yet whatever else that he may have achieved over the years since 2008, there’s a simple purity to In Bruges that’s kept it as one of his most indelible works. It’s certainly a prime example of one of his greatest strengths as a writer. McDonagh’s years as a playwright have given him a real ear for dialogue, and that talent is on gloriously unfiltered display with In Bruges. Yet however clever that his dialogue may be, what really sets it apart is the way that he uses it to reveal character. That’s an interesting contrast to Quentin Tarantino, who also writes memorably acerbic dialogue, but all of the characters in Tarantino films tend to end up sounding exactly like Tarantino. McDonagh’s dialogue is no less biting, but he does a better job of shaping his choice of language to match the individual voices of his characters.
McDonagh’s primary inspiration for In Bruges was his own trip to the city a few years earlier, where he found himself fascinated by all of its beauty, but a little bit bored by it at the same time. He decided that Bruges would be the perfect setting for a crime film, one where the two main characters personify the dichotomy that he had felt. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are two Irish hitmen who work for British gangster Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Ken is acting as a sort of a mentor for the inexperienced Ray, but when Ray screws up while knocking off a priest, a small boy ends up dead. So, Harry orders the two of them to get out of the country and hide out in Bruges, Belgium. While awaiting further orders from Harry, the two of them pretend to be tourists, with Ken actually enjoying the sights, but Ray is depressed by being in what he describes as a “shithole.” Yet they’re not in Bruges by accident, and once they discover the real reason for their visit, the screws will end up tightening around both of them. In Bruges also stars Clémence Poésy, Thekla Reuten, Zeljko Ivanek, Jordan Prentice, and an uncredited Ciarán Hinds (in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo).
The fascinating thing about In Bruges (well, one of the many fascinating things about In Bruges, anyway) is that the whole film is constructed like an elaborate puzzle box. It may seem like a relatively straightforward crime drama featuring some exceptionally witty dialogue, but it’s actually nothing of the sort. McDonagh carefully establishes seemingly unrelated pieces of the puzzle all throughout the film, one after the other, and they only come together at the conclusion. As a result, when the ending is considered in hindsight, it turns out that it was a fait accompli the whole time. Nothing happens by chance; everything was foreordained. In fact, In Bruges is arguably a shaggy dog story, with the entire narrative being little more than a setup for the punchline that’s delivered at the end. Yet if it is a shaggy dog story, it’s an unusually character-driven shaggy dog story. Everything that occurs is motivated by the intrinsic qualities of each of the main characters: Ken’s conflicted loyalty, Ray’s childlike innocence, and Harry’s warped sense of honor. Even the choicest of McDonagh’s scathing dialogue serves a real purpose in terms of establishing exactly who these people are and who they will always be, right up until the bitter end. Some films are about the growth that characters exhibit over the course of the story, but In Bruges is about the characters being true to who they always were.
After all, you’ve got to stick to your principles.
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld shot In Bruges on 35 mm film (in Super-35 format) using ARRI ARRICAM Studio (ST), ARRICAM Lite (LT), and ARRIFLEX 235 cameras with spherical Zeiss Master Prime and Angénieux Optimo lenses. Post-production work was completed as a 2K Digital Intermediate, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber describes the 4K master that Universal supplied to them as a “Brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master color graded and approved by cinematographer Eigil Bryld.” That wording certainly makes it sound like it’s just a new grade from the existing 2K DI, but if Universal didn’t actually go back and rescan the original camera negative at 4K resolution, then the results are proof positive of the advantages of upscaling at the uncompressed 2K source. The image is crystal-clear, extremely sharp, and beautifully detailed. The textures of clothing and faces are well-resolved, as is grain, and there are no signs of compression artifacts. The contrast range is superb, with deep black levels, and the color reproduction is essentially perfect. It’s a fantastic encoding of a gorgeous master, and while it’s not necessarily dazzling compared to some of what modern digital cinematography can do, it maintains a properly filmic look at all times.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. In Bruges is a dialogue-centric film, and the discrete mix does nothing to stray from that fact. There’s some subtle spread with the sound effects across the front channels, and some light ambience in the surrounds, but the focus is usually on the dialogue and the lovely score by the great Carter Burwell. There’s some sporadic gunfire at times, and there’s definitely some dynamic impact from those sound effects, but it’s otherwise a suitably restrained mix.
The Kino Lorber 4K Ultra HD release of In Bruges is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a slipcover. The insert is reversible, with the artwork from the slipcover on one side, and alternate poster artwork on the other. The UHD is movie-only, with all of the extras confined to the Blu-ray:
- Strange Bruges (SD – 7:46)
- When in Bruges (SD – 14:24)
- Fucking Bruges (SD – 1:39)
- A Boat Trip Around Bruges (SD – 5:56)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 16:58, 13 in all)
- Extended Scenes (SD – 2:08, 2 in all)
- Gag Reel (SD – 6:14)
- EPK B-Roll (SD – 12:39)
- EPK Interviews (SD – 16:07, 8 in all)
- In Bruges German Trailer (HD – 2:30)
- In Bruges U.S. Trailer (HD – 2:30)
- Out of Sight Trailer (HD – 2:35)
- Eastern Promises Trailer (HD – 1:55)
- Tropic Thunder Trailer (HD – 2:29)
The first few extras are mostly brief EPK-style featurettes that include interviews with the cast and crew. Strange Bruges opens with McDonagh saying that he always wanted Bruges to be the fourth character in the film, and the rest of the piece shows how that vision was brought to life. When in Bruges continues along the same vein, though it focuses more on the main characters and how the city becomes a reflection of their individual personalities. Fucking Bruges is a whole different story, as it’s a compilation of most of the profanity in the film, condensed into a brisk minute-and-a-half. It makes a nice companion piece to the Best Swearing and Gunfire in Contemporary British Cinema featurette that was an Easter egg on the Snatch DVD and Blu-ray. A Boat Trip Around Bruges is just that: a single six-minute take of a boat trip through the Bruges canal system, accompanied by text explaining various things about the city.
The Deleted Scenes offer some additional character moments, many of them revolving around the conflict between Ken and Ray about seeing the sights in Bruges. It’s easy to understand why they were removed, since they’re arguably gilding the lily about a concept that’s clear enough in the final cut, but there’s still some amusing scenes here—especially Ray’s refusal to acknowledge a horse and carriage. Watch for a subplot involving Matt Smith, who ended up being completely removed from the film. The Extended Scenes are longer versions of two conversations between Ken and Ray. The Gag Reel consists mostly of people flubbing their lines and cracking up, with none of it being particularly interesting. The EPK B-Roll is a random collection of footage from the set that wasn’t used for any of the featurettes. In lieu of an actual making-of documentary, this does provide a glimpse of what the production was like. Finally, the EPK Interviews are clips of the cast and crew offering answers to various questions that were used to promote the film.
That’s pretty much all of the extras from most of the previous DVD or Blu-ray editions of In Bruges, though the Six Shooter short film and more recent interviews with director of photography Eigil Bryld, editor Jon Gregory, production designer Michael Carlin, and actor Eric Godon from the Second Sight Region B Blu-ray release are not present. While some sort of a retrospective look at the film might have been nice, In Bruges is a masterpiece with or without any new extras, and it’s never looked better than it does here in 4K. Some filmmakers have been guilty of revising their older work to make it look cleaner and less like film, but this Ultra HD presentation accentuates those filmic qualities. Hats off to Kino Lorber for providing a lovely new way to watch McDonagh’s seminal work as it was always meant to be seen.
- Stephen Bjork