Around the halfway point of In Bruges, when crime boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes, always dependable) makes a hasty, unexpected departure for Bruges (pronounced "Broozh"), his wife asks, “Why would anybody have to go to Belgium?” Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) would — well, they have, for starters. The two Londoner hit men work for Waters. At their boss’ behest, they’re laying low — hiding out actually — for a fortnight in Bruges, a gothic looking Belgian town known for its medieval architecture and world-class yeasty suds.
Ray messed up. Not such a big thing, considering, for someone just starting out in their chosen line of work, if not for the fact that his profession is terminating people for money. On his first assignment, Ray slew the designated target, a Catholic priest hearkening the executioner’s wicked admissions, when the rookie assassin unloaded in the confessional — bless me father for I have sinned. Caught in the ballistic crossfire was an innocent little boy. It’s unlikely Ray will receive penance for this murderous transgression. More like an eye for eye, Old Testament style.
In two weeks’ span this pair of trained triggermen could kill anything — except time. With its sculpted verticality and pointed arches, Bruges, accruing more like a prominent character than merely a setting, overhangs like purgatory on earth. (“Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one.”) Making the best use of its production location for any movie of recent vintage, In Bruges offers so many stinging jokes and comments, from its main players, at the locale's expense that we're never quite sure if we’re laughing with Bruges — or at it. When in Rome do as the Romans. Churches, canal rides, bell towers comprise the landscape and, thus, Ken and Ray’s farcical touristy itinerary. Limbo is a homicidal sightseer’s worst enemy.
All in all, it doesn’t sound like too harsh a punishment. It’s not for Ken. The older of the two, he’s appreciatively taking in Bruges’ culture. The more crass Ray is bored and doesn’t mind telling his partner at every turn. (“I used to hate history, didn’t you? It’s all just a load of stuff that’s already happened”). Who says crime doesn’t pay?