Bruges, the most well-preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium, is a welcoming destination for travelers from all over the world. But for hit men Ray and Ken, it could be their final destination; a difficult job has resulted in the pair being ordered right before Christmas by their London boss Harry to go and cool their heels in the storybook Flemish city for a couple of weeks. Very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, the two hit men fill their days living the lives of tourists. Ray, still haunted by the bloodshed in London, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray's often profanely funny exploits, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city. But the longer they stay waiting for Harry's call, the more surreal their experience becomes, as they find themselves in weird encounters with locals, tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë, who may have some dark secrets of her own.
And when the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray's vacation becomes a life-and-death struggle of darkly comic proportions and surprisingly emotional consequences.
In Bruges is loaded with gun play and showdowns, but McDonagh – like Tarantino – knows full well that what makes crime fiction interesting is a gun being pointed between two characters, but what makes crime fiction fascinating is a writer who knows the potentially dangerous flesh-and-blood characters on both ends of the weapon matter far more than the potentially dangerous metal object between them. In Bruges is funny and flashy, but as it ends you know you've been laughing because it truly hurts, and every flare and flash of the talking and the killing have left something much more subtle burned into your brain.