Writer-director Martin McDonagh's devastating black comedy about a trio of battling hitmen gets a glorious 4K UHD upgrade that makes us feel like we're actually In Bruges. Kino's brand new master souped up with Dolby Vision HDR and color graded and approved by cinematographer Eigil Bryld immerses us in the Old World atmosphere of the Belgian town and heightens the impact of the magnetic performances of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Robust audio and a hefty supplemental package also distinguish this definitive presentation of an unforgettable film. Highly Recommended.
Moral standards, self-loathing, guilt, and remorse aren't terms we usually associate with Hollywood hitmen. Most movies portray these hired assassins as cold-blooded killing machines who extinguish human life without a second thought or backward glance, but in his debut feature film, writer-director Martin McDonagh peels away their icy veneer to reveal the tortured souls lurking beneath. In Bruges, a violent black comedy that simmers with underlying emotion and is peppered with more than a little irony, takes us inside the psyches of these reprehensible yet intriguing creatures and juxtaposes them against an idyllic atmosphere of historical charm and grandeur. Alternately hysterical and heartbreaking, this impeccably mounted film instantly vaulted McDonagh to prominence and set him on a path that would lead to such eclectic fare as Seven Psycopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are two Irish hitmen forced to hole up in a small hotel in "fucking Bruges" after one of their jobs goes horribly wrong. While awaiting instructions from their pissed-off boss, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes), the duo whiles away the lonely hours touring the city (much to Ray's chagrin), frequenting its pubs, and happening upon a movie set where Ray meets the beautiful yet shady Chloë (Clémence Poséy), who just might be his soulmate. In between violent encounters with tourists, a scuffle with Chloë's partner in crime, and a night of debauchery with a diminutive actor (Jordan Prentice), Ray and Ken bicker like battling brothers and deal with monumental challenges that intensify when the rigid, resolute Harry arrives on the scene.
Farrell, Gleeson, and Fiennes make a formidable triumvirate, but the real star of In Bruges is McDonagh's Oscar-nominated original screenplay that brilliantly mixes biting, non-PC humor with sweet interactions, boisterous hijinks, provocative themes, and bloody confrontations. The episodic, seemingly disjointed plot culminates in a superb and shocking climax that ties together all the narrative threads and provides even minor characters with pivotal moments.
The absorbing story keeps us involved, but the film's greatest reward comes from watching Ray, Ken, and Harry interact and gradually reveal bits of their very different personalities. McDonagh gets inside their respective heads without any excess palaver, resulting in an insightful trio of character studies. Ken is the wise, level-headed, empathetic father figure; Ray is the brash, impulsive, jaded youth eager to satisfy his myriad urges and desperate to block out a horrific incident from his past; and Harry is the efficient, ruthless businessman who has no tolerance for mistakes and harbors a surprisingly rigid moral center from which no deviation is allowed. These fascinating figures hold us spellbound and never cease to surprise and delight.
A morality tale wrapped up in an action-buddy-travelogue flick, In Bruges requires talented actors who can handle the script's myriad shifts in tone. All the performances resonate, but Farrell, Gleeson, and Fiennes lead the charge. After skyrocketing to stardom, then languishing in a string of disappointing blockbusters and empty star vehicles, Farrell reminded us what a talented and intuitive actor he is, filing a portrayal that brims with angst, anguish, and an arresting lack of guile. His priceless chemistry with Gleeson (which hopefully will be repeated in the upcoming The Banshees of Inisherin, also written and directed by McDonagh) fuels the film, and their rollicking on-screen relationship runs the gamut from combative to achingly tender.
In a showier role, Farrell gives In Bruges plenty of heart, but Gleeson supplies the soul with a subtle, endearing, utterly authentic portrayal that stands as one of his best. Fiennes is always a mesmerizing presence, and it's a treat to watch him craft his colorful turn here. Though he doesn't appear until about halfway through, he provides a jolt of electricity to an already kinetic film and disproves the adage that two's company and three's a crowd. Fiennes jumps into the fray without skipping a beat and attacks a tricky part with customary gusto.
McDonagh's playwright roots explain the script's masterful construction and lyrical dialogue, but his artistic eye makes In Bruges as satisfying visually as it is thematically. McDonagh casts Bruges as a central character and treats it as lovingly as he does those who live and breathe. The city's pulse beats throughout the film and its beauty stands in stark contrast to the brutality of the three men who invade its tranquil confines. McDonagh's potential was foretold when he won the 2004 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film for Six Shooter (in which Gleeson also appears), but he lived up to it with In Bruges and has continued to build on it since.
I hadn't seen In Bruges for several years before this viewing and wondered whether it would still hold up. It does. And in the splendor of 4K UHD with Dolby Vision (more on that below), it's even more immediate and involving. Black comedies don't get much blacker than this one, but few are packed with as many dimensional characters, as much quirky humor, and more humanity. So grab a pint, settle into a recliner, and take a trip to fucking Bruges. You won't regret the journey.
For another take on In Bruges, read HDD's review of the 2011 Blu-ray by clicking here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
In Bruges arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. (A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is another audio option.) A Blu-ray disc that houses a 1080p transfer of the remastered film, as well as all the supplements, is also included in the set. Once the discs are inserted in the player, the static menus with music immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.
A "brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master color graded and approved by cinematographer Eigil Bryld" yields a stunning 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer that's definitely worthy of an upgrade for In Bruges fans. This vibrant, lush rendering is an unqualified treat that immerses us in the charm, history, and Old World beauty of Bruges. Crystal clarity and pitch-perfect contrast combine with inky blacks, bright, stable whites, and a slightly muted yet still potent color palette to produce a vivid, silky image that brims with depth and dimension while maintaining a palpable film-like feel. Faint grain supplies a hint of texture that complements the story's gritty undertones and remains consistent even during the darkest scenes. Reflections in the canals and various styles of glass are wonderfully defined, as are the snow flurries that fall late in the film and the ornate details in churches, museums, and the interior of the gun dealer's home.
Close-ups are dazzling. Farrell's omnipresent stubble and bushy eyebrows, a few faint hairs on Gleeson's ear, glistening sweat, pores, isolated facial blemishes, blood-stained cheeks, and Poésy's creamy complexion are all razor sharp. In Bruges isn't a particularly colorful film, but the wider spectrum of Dolby Vision maximizes the impact and subtle gradations of the existing hues. (A sunset shot is especially gorgeous.) Natural flesh tones and excellent shadow delineation that keeps crush at bay even during nocturnal sequences also distinguish this superior presentation, and not a single nick or mark dots the pristine source material.
Universal's 2011 Blu-ray was no slouch, but it looks flatter and duller when compared to Kino's terrific remastered UHD transfer. Though there aren't any glaring differences between the two, the Kino disc provides an enhanced viewing experience that heightens our connection to the characters, location, and story. It's a captivating effort that keeps the eye riveted throughout.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track seems to be identical to the one included on Universal's 2011 Blu-ray, which is not at all a bad thing. The track is quite good, providing crisp, nuanced sound that enhances the Belgian atmosphere. Though surround activity is lacking, some nice stereo separation across the front channels widens the soundscape. Subtleties like faint music emanating from a church organ and footsteps crunching against cobblestones are distinct, but when the shooting starts the track kicks into a higher gear, as thunderous gun blasts engage the subwoofer and rock the room. Expansive dynamic range handles all the highs and lows of Carter Burwell's marvelous score without any distortion, and no hiss, pops, or crackle mar the track's purity. The dialogue is clear, but thanks to the thick Irish brogues of Farrell and Gleeson, not always comprehensible. While the accents are delightfully lilting, the actors' often rapid-fire line deliveries and occasional mumbling make it tough to understand every word. I found myself rewinding on several occasions to try and catchphrases that sounded like gibberish the first time through. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not, but the audio track was never to blame.
This Kino edition also includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, of which I sampled bits and pieces. While it certainly supplies well-balanced sound, the track lacks the contours and dynamism of the 5.1 mix. If you have a multi-channel setup, definitely choose the 5.1 option.
The substantive supplemental package ports over all the extras from the previous Blu-ray and includes several more goodies, all of which were produced at the time of the movie's production. All the special features reside on the Blu-ray disc.
Featurette: "Strange Bruges" (SD, 8 minutes) - McDonagh, Farrell, Fiennes, Gleeson, and others talk about the fairy tale allure of Bruges, admire its picturesque atmosphere, and laud its tasty beer in this slick featurette. In addition, members of the film's crew point out various locations and outline how a famous church was partially recreated to shoot a pivotal scene.
Featurette: "When in Bruges" (SD, 14 minutes) - In this behind-the-scenes piece, McDonagh recalls his first exposure to Bruges, how he came up with the film's central premise, and the pressure he felt making his first feature. Farrell, Gleason, Fiennes, and others analyze their respective characters, praise their humanity, and note how "nice people can do terrible things."
Featurette: "Fucking Bruges" (SD, 2 minutes) - This hilarious, rapid-fire compilation of all the film's expletives reminds us why In Bruges rivals a Scorsese picture with regard to its constant use of f-bombs.
Featurette: "A Boat Trip Around Bruges" (SD, 6 minutes) - This literal tour of Bruges aboard a tranquil canal boat includes bits of trivia and historical data on a crawl above and below the image.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 17 minutes) - Most deleted scenes are well left on the cutting room floor, but several of the 11 excised sequences included here contain touching and insightful character beats and bits of marvelous humor that I wish McDonagh had left in.
Extended Scenes (SD, 2 minutes) - The two extended scenes, however, add little and were wisely shortened for the final cut.
Gag Reel (SD, 6 minutes) - Gag reels always promise more than they deliver, and this compilation of mildly amusing mess-ups and crack-ups is no exception.
EPK B-Roll (SD, 13 minutes) - This reel of behind-the-scenes footage shows McDonagh directing the principals and includes isolated takes of various moments.
EPK Interviews (SD, 16 minutes) - Comments from cast members Farrell, Gleason, Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Thelka Reuten, and Jordan Prentice, writer-director McDonagh, and producer Graham Broadbent that didn't find their way into the finished featurettes are presented here.
Theatrical Trailers (HD, 5 minutes) - Both the original U.S. trailer and the same preview dubbed in German are included and presented in high definition.
In Bruges gets a spectacular 4K UHD upgrade, thanks to a brand new master color graded and approved by cinematographer Eigil Bryld and enhanced with Dolby Vision HDR. Writer-director Martin McDonagh's debut feature about a trio of bickering hitmen who settle personal scores amid the fairy tale beauty of Belgium's crown jewel still packs a punch, deftly mixing black comedy, thrills, emotion, and travelogue and featuring top-notch portrayals from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Robust audio and a substantive supplemental package that includes extras that weren't on the 2011 Blu-ray complement the sublime video transfer, making this the definitive edition of a captivating and devastating film. Highly Recommended.