After a glowing critic reception as the opening night film at Sundance, playwright Martin McDonagh’s feature debut "In Bruges" opens in theaters to somewhat more mixed reviews from our favorite critics. Liking it the most: Roger Ebert, who describes the film as "an endlessly surprising, very dark, human comedy," and raves that McDonagh "has made a remarkable first film, as impressive in its own way as ‘House of Games,’ the first film by David Mamet, who McDonagh is sometimes compared with." Also a fan is Glenn Kenny at Premiere, who notes that despite the film’s marketing representing it as a kind of Guy Ritchie road movie, and "for all its very snappy dialogue and daringly crass humor, In Bruges aims to be about, in one character’s words, ‘guilt and sins and hell and all that.’" "All the leads are perfectly cast, and they help turn a light farce with thriller overtones into something deeper and sweeter," writes Tasha Robinson at the Onion AV Club, adding that the film is "an endless pleasant surprise."
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times deems "In Bruges" "a goof, both diverting and forgettable," concluding that McDonagh "talks a blue streak beautifully, but he has yet to find the nuance and poetry that make his red images signify with commensurate sizzle and pop." "McDonagh’s basic ability is undeniable," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "He writes carefully wrought duets for dialect, accommodates generous space for his actors to build character, and knows how to pack a scene with ballast… Then the question comes: what’s the sum of these scenes? What’s the angle in another hit man movie?" "Tolerably well-crafted, In Bruges is also mighty pleased with itself, and not entirely without reason," allows Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, while finding that "there’s something glib and derivative about this clever chatter, and for all McDonagh’s genuflections to Bosch, who never met an original sin he didn’t want to commit to canvas, both the look and the moral agenda of In Bruges suggest warmed-over Italian surrealism with a dash of early Scorsese." Anthony Lane at the New Yorker adds that "you could argue that McDonagh is staking his claim to the infernal Boschean tradition; he even prepares the way by having Ray and Ken mull over the quandaries of guilt and damnation that they learned at school. Nice try, but I donâ€™t buy it."
"For In Bruges to click, McDonagh needed either to get more real or more fake," suggests David Edelstein at New York, while Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum thinks the problems is that "McDonagh hasn’t yet solved the construction of a feature film. The writer in him lets his characters declaim and banter too indulgently, and the theater guy in him positions his thespians as if envisioning stage-set changes, his eye not quite attuned to the cinematic requirements of movement through real space."
Liking the film the least: Nick Schager at Slant, who writes:
The tenor of [McDonagh’s] material is hopelessly off, especially in the comedy department, here amounting to Farrell making jokes at little people’s expense, having hoods slander each other as "gay" (or "poof"), and taking some crude, unearned jabs at boorish Americans thatâ€”considering the film’s empty, self-consciously "clever" vulgarity and sizeable debt to stateside crime (and crime-buddy) picsâ€”come off as the height of hypocrisy.
And Armond White at the New York Press (whose "here’s what you should be talking about" choices this round are, distractingly, "Hitman" and "War") claims that "Itâ€™s deeply insulting to movie audiences when an award-winning playwright thinks that this sub-Tarantino nonsense carries the essence of cinema in some way."