Now 15 years later, In Bruges was released to overwhelming acclaim on February 8.
In 2006, Martin McDonagh visited the Belgian city of Bruges. Strolling past its postcard Gothic architecture, famed center bell tower, and romantic canals, the award-winning playwright started to see a film unfold before him. “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," McDonagh explains in the film’s production notes.
McDonagh’s original idea evolved into a tale of two Irish hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who are sent to Bruges to wait for further instruction after a previous assignment goes awry. There, the two bicker about beauty, beer, and the art of Hieronymus Bosch, unaware that their brief sojourn may be their final destination.
To celebrate the movie’s 15th anniversary, we’re spotlighting five things that make it a cinematic destination you’ll want to revisit again and again.
1) A perfect screenplay
Before creating In Bruges, McDonagh was recognized as one of Ireland’s most daring playwrights for his razor-sharp dialogue and hilarious plots in dramas like The Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The verbal dexterity he demonstrated juggling the satirical, savage, and sublime for the stage carried over into his debut feature film. “McDonagh’s screenplay pulls all the disparate elements together like so many balls of different wool, creating a masterpiece peppered with great melancholy, poignancy, intemperance and a devastating wit drawn from the closest observation of his characters and their peccadilloes,” writes GQ. The Guardian put it simply, “The script, as far as I can see, is perfect.”
2) An unforgettable acting duo
The acclaim that Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have received for their recent turn in The Banshees of Inisherin is a reminder of how brilliant they were in In Bruges. Gleeson told The Los Angeles Times that "there’s just something really special about myself and Colin.” Individually both actors shine In Bruges. Film School Rejects writes that Farrell’s “performance is nothing short of phenomenal”—indeed, he won a Golden Globe for it. But the duo—whom The Oregonian hilariously describes as “Laurel and Hardy with guns and Irish accents”—creates something special and unique.
3) An alluring cinematic destination
In the last 15 years, travelers have been inspired by the film to visit the actual town. When making the film, production designer Michael Carlin recalls in the production notes that “Bruges itself is a key character that changes throughout the story.” The blog Travel? Yes Please remembers how “the film did a great job of showcasing Bruges, so much so, that I couldn’t stop dreaming about it for weeks.” Lovers of the movie and city have put together tours for fellow fans. Discovering Belgium, for example, provides travelers a downloadable “One Day In Bruges Walking Map” to help them discover the movie’s iconic locations.
4) An unexpected holiday movie
Although In Bruges was released in February, many rewatch it in December as an alternative holiday movie. With decorative lights, busy streets, and overbooked hotels “a certain holiday magic enlivens” the film, points out Collider. In fact, Epigram lists it as one of their five best alternative Christmas films. While there is not a Santa, reindeer, or elf to be seen, the National Post argues, “It’s a twilight fairy tale of holiday purgatory in which there still exists hope for the otherwise hopeless.”
5) A gift that keeps on giving
Like most classic films, In Bruges is a movie that you can’t watch just once. “When you take a second look, the complexity and brilliance of the film really shine through,” writes Oxford Student. In 2021, The Guardian revisited the film, noting that “the contrast of graphic violence with moments of extraordinary tenderness combine to make In Bruges a masterpiece of nuance and sledge hammer,” or, as they explained, “a film that rewards multiple viewings.”