Martin McDonagh • Director
by Miriam Tola
23/01/2008 - In 2001, The Guardian called him "one of the most exciting playwrights to emerge from Britain in decades". Seven years later, London-born Martin McDonagh, winner of an Oscar for the short film Six Shooter, opened the Sundance Film Festival with In Bruges [trailer], his debut feature. As in his plays, the film is marked by biting Irish humour and an extreme passion for Quentin Tarantino and John Woo, yet with a greater inclination to delve into the characters’ nuances.
The film, shot in the Belgian city of the title with support from the local City Film Office, centres on two killers forced to take a vacation after one accidentally killed a child. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ken and Ray, an “odd couple” of hitmen, the older and reflective, the other young and excitable. Ralph Fiennes is their ferocious and inexorable boss, who decides to punish Ray, for whom two weeks in Belgium is like being as good as dead.
In Bruges was produced by Blueprint Pictures, Film 4 and Scion Film along with US company Focus Features has been sold throughout much of Europe. In America it will be released on February 8 to take advantage of its Sundance buzz.
The film’s success coincides with the UK Film Council’s publication of figures on the 2007 English cinema market. Despite a box office boom, production spending was down and the number of UK-made films also decreased. The negative trend is thought due to the US screenwriters’ strike and the weakness of the dollar.
Cineuropa: Tell us about the film’s production.
Martin McDonagh: I shot it almost four years ago. The English producer Graham Broadbent liked the project and at the European Film Market it attracted the Americans even before Colin Farrell was involved. Before shooting, we rehearsed for three weeks, the shoot lasted seven weeks and the budget was around $16m. The film has been sold practically throughout the world.
Why did you choose Bruges as a location?
I visited Bruges four years ago and experienced contrasting emotions. It has an incredible architecture and history, I couldn’t believe no one had ever chosen it for a film, yet at the same time it’s rather boring. I began imagining two characters forced to pass a period of time together, who react to the city in different ways. Ken is captured by the culture, Ray is bored to death and prefers sitting in a bar.
How did your experience as a playwright influence the writing of the film?
Although my plays have a very strong cinematic dimension, the last thing I wanted was to bring a play to the screen. The idea was to make a small film focused on the characters’ humanity. Writing was the easiest part but finding the right visual style and learning the right camera positions took an enormous amount of work.
How did you work with the actors?
We rehearsed for three weeks before shooting. I had no one particular in mind while writing the screenplay. The three gangsters were from London, then when Brendan entered the project, he pointed out to me the similarity between an Irish accent and a working class London accent. He and Colin [both Dubliners] worked without having to have their accents corrected, which was one less barrier for their characters.