So, what do you show on the telly to begin such a sequence?
Martin McDonagh, the director, has a different answer than Martin McDonagh the writer.
He shows the first shot of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, a five minutes long shot that starts with a guy planting a bomb in a car in Mexico, and doesn't end until we cut to see the car blowing up across the border. In the meantime, the shot follows that Pinto-to-be, as well as honeymoon couple Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh as they cross over from Mexico to America in one long, continuous take, the couple walking with the ticking car, which then stops at traffic lights, alternately pulling up to them and leaving them behind—a roller-coaster ride of tension and relief.
This scene has that same herkem-jerkem pattern, as Ken tries to assure control-freak mobster Harry (a brilliant performance by Ralph Fiennes, despite that he literally "phoned it in") that every little thing is going the precise way Harry wants it. Harry being volatile and that ("He swears a lot, doesn't he?" says Ray, which is funny because he does, as well), it's a bit of a dainty tight-rope walk. In fact, there's hardly any truth in it at all on Ken's end—Ray isn't there, he's not in the bathroom, he didn't want to find a bowling alley, he HATES fookin' Bruges, and Ray doesn't feel like he's in a dream, he feels like he's in Hell and, in point of fact, Hell would be better than Bruges.
But that's not what makes Harry happy, and you want to keep Harry happy, because if you don't—well, he might kill you or something (which he might do anyway).
Not easy being a hit-man, now, is it?
Anyway, Ken is enjoying Bruges. He likes sight-seeing, and has a richly imaginative interior life as his performance for Harry demonstrates. This scene is typical of In Bruges, comic and tragic at the same time, with a blow to the gut at the end that changes everything—it's a more comic playing of a scene reminiscent in tone of the taxi scene from On the Waterfront.
And the brilliant Brendan Gleeson is the only one on-camera for the whole "take."
The Set-Up: Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are on Holiday in Bruges (it's in Denmark), after a hit gone-wrong under the employ of the volatile Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Ray's target was a priest (Ciarán Hinds in an uncredited cameo) and inadvertently killed a child simultaneously. Ray, wracked with guilt, is miserable, suicidal and hates the medieval tourist trap. Ken is just trying to keep his partner together. Anyway, that's what he thinks his job is. Tonight, Ray's gone out on a date, while Ken takes it easy with the tube.
And then, the phone rings.
Int. HOTEL ROOM - NIGHT
In one continuous take, if possible.
KEN blankly channel-surfing, remains of his dinner on a tray on the bed beside him. Phone rings. KEN mutes the cartoons and answers.
HARRY Where the fuck were you yesterday?
KEN We just popped out for some dinner, Harry. We only popped out half an hour.
HARRY Yeah? What did you have?
KEN For dinner?
KEN Er...pizza. Pizza-Hut.
HARRY Was it nice?
KEN Yeah, it was alright. Y'know, it was Pizza-Hut, it was the same as in England.
HARRY Yeah, well, that's globalization, isn't it? Is Ray there with you?
KEN Er, he's in the toilet.
HARRY Can he hear?
HARRY What's he doing?
KEN What do you mean?
HARRY Is he doing a wee or a poo?
KEN I don't know, Harry. The door's closed.
HARRY Send him out on an errand for half an hour. But don't make it sound suspicious.
KEN puts his hand over the receiver and, a little confused, starts talking to the empty bathroom.
KEN Ray? Why don't you go out down the pub for half an hour? (pause) I know I said you couldn't, but we might as well enjoy ourselves, eh? (pause) No, I don't know if they've got bowling anywhere, you could have a look, eh?
KEN Yeah, see ya...
KEN goes to the door, awkwardly with the phone, opens it, slams it, and goes back to the bed.
KEN Yeah, he's gone.
HARRY What did you say to him?
KEN I said why don't he go have a drink, save being cooped up.
HARRY And what did he say?
KEN He said yeah he would, and he might go have a look see if there's a bowling alley around.
HARRY Was he having a wee?
KEN Yeah, I think so. I assume so.
HARRY So he didn't mind?
KEN No, he was glad to get out.
HARRY Is he definitely gone?
KEN Yeah, yeah, he slammed the door.
HARRY That don't mean he's gone. Go check outside the door.
KEN rolls his eyes, sighs internally, opens the door, pauses, closes it again and returns to the phone.
KEN Harry, he's definitely gone.
HARRY You realize there are no bowling alleys in Bruges?
KEN I realize that, Harry. The boy wanted to have a look anyway.
HARRY What are they gonna have, a Medieval fucking bowling alley?
KEN As I say, I think he was glad to get out and about.
HARRY Ah, is he having a nice time, seeing all the canals and that? I had a lovely time when I was there. All the canals and the old buildings and that.
KEN When were you here?
HARRY When I was seven.
HARRY Have you been on a canal-trip yet?
HARRY And have you been down like all the old cobbled streets and that?
HARRY It's like a fairy-tale, isn't it, that place?
HARRY With the churches and that. The Gothic.
HARRY Is it "Gothic?"
HARRY So he's having a really nice time?
KEN Well....I'm having a really nice time. I'm not sure if it's really his cup of tea.
HARRY (pause) What?
KEN Y'know, I'm not sure if it's really his thing.
HARRY What do you mean "it's not really his thing?" What's that supposed to mean, "It's not really his thing." What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
KEN realizes that something is very wrong.
KEN Nothing, Harry.
HARRY It's a fairy-tale fucking town, isn't it? How can a fairy-tale town not be somebody's fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches and all of that beautiful fucking fairy-tale stuff, how can that not be somebody's fucking thing, eh?
KEN What I think I meant to say was...
HARRY Is the swans still there?
KEN Yeah, there's swans.
HARRY How can fucking swans not fucking be somebody's fucking thing? How can that be?!
KEN What I think I meant to say was, when he first arrived he wasn't quite sure about it. Y'know, there's that big dual-carriageway when you get off the train, that might've been here when you were here last, Harry, but as soon as he got to, like, the town proper and saw the canals and the bridges and, y'know, the swans and that, well he just fucking loved it then, he couldn't get enough of it, the medieval part of town.
KEN It was that initial dual carriageway thing sort of put him off for a second.
HARRY I don't remember a dual-carriageway. That must be recent. It hasn't spoilt it, has it?
KEN No, no, it was just that initial thing. And you know what? As we were walking through the streets, there was this kind of freezing fog hanging over everything, and it made it look almost like a fairy-tale or something, and he turned to me and you know what he said?
HARRY What did he say?
KEN He said, "Ken, I know I'm awake, but I feel like I'm in a dream."
HARRY Yeah? He said that?
HARRY Meaning like in a good dream?
KEN Yeah, of course, like in a good dream.
HARRY Ahh. Good. I'm glad he likes it there. I'm glad we were able to give him something. Something good and happy. Cos he wasn't a bad kid, was he?
KEN's heart sinks, he hopes he isn't hearing what he's hearing.
HARRY He wasn't a bad kid, was he?
HARRY Listen, take down this address. "Raamstraat 17." That's "Raam" like "Ram" but with an extra "A."
KEN Raamstraat 17.
HARRY You got that?
KEN Yes, Raamstraat 17.
HARRY Good, there'll be a man there tomorrow morning at nine, his name's Yuri.
HARRY He'll give you the gun. Ring me on the public phone at Jimmy Driscoll's about three or four tomorrow, after it's done.
KEN After what's done?
HARRY (pause) Are you being thick?
HARRY Listen, I liked Ray. He was a good bloke, but when it all comes down to it, y'know, he blew the head off a little fucking kid. And you brought him in, Ken. So if the buck doesn't stop with him, where does it stop? (pause) Ken? If the buck don't stop, where does it stop?
HARRY Ken? If the buck don't stop with him, where does it stop?
KEN It stops with me, Harry. That's an easy one.
HARRY Don't get shirty, Ken. Listen, I'm just glad I was able to do something for the boy before he went.
KEN Do what for the boy?
HARRY Y'know, have him get to see Bruges.
HARRY I hope to get to see Bruges again before I die. What was it he said again, about "It's like a dream...?"
KEN "I know I'm awake, but I feel like I'm in a dream."
HARRY Ahh. (pause) Give me a call when he's dead.
HARRY hangs up. KEN listens to the phone's dead drone awhile, staring at the muted cartoons, then hangs up.
He sits on the window seat and looks at Bruges all lit up like a fairy-tale. A swan passes on the canal below.
FADE TO BLACK
Words by Martin McDonagh
Pictures by Eigil Bryld and Martin McDonagh.
In Bruges is available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.