Call it the luck of the Irish.
Since hitting theaters in February, “In Bruges” has not been the toast of award season -- the pitch-black comedic thriller has been more like the season’s half-finished drink left sitting on the bar. The movie turned up on nary an Oscar prognosticator’s year-end list and, more tellingly, remained absent from Hollywood’s traditional “for your consideration” politicking. Moreover, “In Bruges” reaped less than $8 million at the box office and has flown under the radar of all but the most indie-attuned American movie lovers after premiering as the opening night selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But on Thursday, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. honored the low-budget, British-produced film with three nominations in marquee categories.
Its stars, Irish movie icons Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, will compete against each other for best performance by an actor in a motion picture comedy or musical. And “In Bruges"-- which follows Farrell and Gleeson as two foul-mouthed Irish hit men hiding out in Bruges, Belgium’s most perfectly preserved medieval city, after a botched job -- was nominated for best motion picture comedy or musical, beating out such higher-profile fare as “Sex and the City” and the Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson romantic comedy “Last Chance Harvey.”
The nominations were a surprise not only to entertainment industry observers but also inside the corridors of “In Bruges” distributor, Focus Features. Even the movie’s producer and its marquee star admitted being flabbergasted by the news.
“I didn’t see it coming! Not even as a dark horse,” Farrell said Thursday, speaking from the deck of his Los Angeles home. “I was really surprised. The fact that it showed so early in the year and had such a lukewarm reaction financially -- it didn’t get seen by that many people -- it’s a testament to [director Martin McDonagh] and to good filmmaking that the film seemed to strike a chord with the voters.”
McDonagh, the acclaimed Irish playwright responsible for “The Pillow Man” and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” made his feature debut with “In Bruges.” In a statement issued from New York, where he is mounting a new production, McDonagh said he felt “glad that our strange little comedy of mayhem and redemption has been recognized for the superlative performances of Colin and Brendan.”
Gleeson, 53, a journeyman actor and heavyweight screen presence, is best-known Stateside for his appearances in films such as “Gangs of New York” and the last two “Harry Potter” films (as Professor Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody).
Farrell’s eclectic career has swung between big-budget studio fare (“S.W.A.T.,” “Miami Vice”), indie movies (“A Home at the End of the World,” “Cassandra’s Dream”) and foreign-made movies like the Irish hit “Intermission.”
Producer Graham Broadbent didn’t seem quite as floored by the nominations as Farrell but expressed a level of pleasant shock at the announcement.
“I was genuinely surprised,” Broadbent said. “The weird thing about the film was, in the U.K. -- I suppose in the U.S. too -- it seems like a lot of people in the industry had seen and would always refer back to it. I was very surprised but also happy to see it recognized.”
The notoriously potty-mouthed Farrell seemed determined to take the news in his stride.
“It’s nice to get a pat on the back,” he said. “You get pats and you get kicks in the ass through the years. The best way, I suppose, is to believe neither.”
Lee is a Times staff writer.