(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, this review might include some light ones)
This is the question that lies at the core of In Bruges. The film follows a duo of hitmen: veteran Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and rookie Ray (Colin Farrell). After Ray's first assignment goes awry (he kills a young child), his boss, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes), sends them to Bruges, allegedly to lay low. So, even though Ray calls the place "a shithole", they try to enjoy the pleasantries of Bruges, be it the tourist settings, museums, the women, drugs, etc. However, the next day, Ken receives a call from Harry in which he instructs him to get rid of Ray. This leads him to question his loyalty to his boss, or his friendship to Ray.
Overall, the film was entertaining enough, even though the first half had an awkward, sorta bumbling pace. The random dialogues between Ken and Ray felt at times like the writer was pushing too hard for a Pulp Fiction-like vibe. Also, the performance of Farrell didn't help. I've seen him doing much better work (Tigerland, Minority Report, Phone Booth) but his performance here wasn't that great. Particularly in an important scene where he breaks down crying due to the guilt of what he did. Gleeson, on the other hand, was solid as usual. And the addition of Fiennes in the last act didn't hurt the film either. Speaking of that, the film does kick it up a notch during its second half, the pace felt more settled, and everything felt more assured than it did at first.
The film walks a thin line between drama and black comedy. But despite its seemingly off-the-wall nature at times, it does raises some thought-provoking questions. Most of them have to do with the nature of Bruges, and how do the characters perceive it. From the minute they arrive, Ken loves the place and enjoys riding the canals, visiting museums, or sitting in parks. His boss, Harry, later tells Ken that he sent them to Bruges because he remembered the place from his childhood, and how it was like a fairytale. He wanted Ray's last days to be at a beautiful place. However, Ray considers the place "a shithole", and is unable to see the beauties that his partner sees. The guilt of his crime makes him feel like he's been taken to Purgatory or Hell, and he suffers like so. His rationalization is strengthened by the characters he meet in the way: a dwarf, a drug dealer, a thief, a gun dealer... a couple of Canadians.
In the end, I think it's up to us to answer the question. Is this place the fairytale setting that Ken says it is, or that his boss remembers? or is it the hell, or the Purgatory Ray is sent to as punishment for his crime? Judging from the events of the final act, it's all up to the perception of each character. Be it Ken, Ray, or Harry; and each of them ends up seeing the place in different lights. As for the film itself, it was good, but it could've been better. Grade: B