In Bruges

In theaters.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s feature film debut is extraordinarily preoccupied with mortality and guilt, the finality of death, the weighing of one evil against another—which is a bit odd because of its genre. In Bruges is, in many ways, an archetypal black-humored crime flick—packed with stylized banter, quirky characters, and self-consciously weird juxtapositions—and that genre lends itself more to wry, amoral detachment than earnest ethical evaluations.

Obviously, it’s not impossible to do the latter. I know many would disagree, but I happen to believe that Quentin Tarantino—surely the godfather of the breed—has produced work with a strong moral center. I mean, the climax of Pulp Fiction is a revelation from God, Jules solemnly declaring that after years enforcing the “tyranny of evil men” he’s going to try to act as a shepherd. But I digress. My point is that McDonagh is attempting a very delicate balancing act with In Bruges, and I’m not sure he totally pulls it off. The dialogue sometimes lumbers when it should be more subtle. The self-conscious weirdness sometimes feels off point and distracting. Yet In Bruges also has flashes of genuine power, scenes in which the artsy allusions to Bosch actually seem to work and the film transcends its genre—if only for a few beautiful moments.