Brendan Gleeson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ken in In Bruges.
Gleeson performance and character of Ken though is in reality just as important as Colin Farrell's Ray is to In Bruges. Ken is the older of the two hit men as well as the more experienced who has successfully in the past completed many jobs. Gleeson performance is quite the opposite of Farrell far more manic performance, since Gleeson takes a very low key sort of approach for Ken. One of the biggest differences between the two men is where Ray can barely contain his discontent over being in Bruges, Ken on the other hand seems to look forward to enjoying the various art and architecture found in Bruges and does not have any problem spending time in such a place.
Brendan Gleeson does not portray Ken as any sort of mean bitter assassin, but instead Gleeson makes Ken an extremely likable character. He just about one big teddy bear in his portrayal that plays off Colin Farrell far more hostile performance perfectly. Gleeson is quite good in showing just the simple joy Ken does get out of seeing the various sights in Bruges. Brendan Gleeson has a very unique charm as an actor that is most certainly on fully display here as Ken, and it works perfectly for the film. Gleeson makes Ken just a fun character to have around from the very beginning, and his very pleasant portrayal creates a great dynamic with Farrell's Ray.
Gleeson just like Farrell gives a very funny comedic performance. Gleeson though brings the humor far differently than Farrell's more wild reactions. Gleeson is very simple in his approach and much of it does in fact come from his own reactions to Farrell's performance. Gleeson is very quiet and he always makes it quite clear that Ken takes Ray's antics in stride. He never suggests being annoyed, but rather Gleeson shows that Ken rather enjoys Ray's company. This is not to say Ken does not take some issue with Ray's almost constant complaints, and he tends to deal with them with a look or a just a quick verbal remainder. Gleeson is always spot on with his timing and gives a very amusing performance.
As was with Farrell's performance Gleeson is as effective with his dramatic moments as he is with his comedic ones. Gleeson again though very much stays calm with his performance even in the more emotional scenes with Farrell. In their earliest discussion of both their professions and what seems like their fate from what they have done Gleeson shows Ken to be the straight thinking of the two. Although in many ways Gleeson creates an interesting relationship between the two as he is trying his very best to try to comfort Ray over his actions. There is a warmth in Gleeson performance that always manages to shine through showing that Ken does care for Ray.
He though not only supports Ray in the philosophical moments but Gleeson lets us in on Ken's own past as well. Ken has not failed a job ever, and there is only one person he has killed that he even some what regrets, although still does not feel wholly guilty over. Gleeson very carefully portrays Ken's feelings towards the people he has killed. He does not make Ken seem like a cold blooded killer, even though Ken does not seem to truly hate himself over what he done. Gleeson naturally shows instead that Ken has come to accept his life as it is, he is not seriously torn. Gleeson makes it that Ken knows what he has done is nothing great, bur still Ken can live with himself for it.
Eventually though Ken has his own serious problem when he learns that the reason he has gone with Bruges with Ray by his boss and friend Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is so Ray can have one joyful time before Ken is suppose to kill Ray for having killed the young boy in his hit. After Ken is told this over the phone Gleeson is excellent as he shows a whole different guilt in him the prevails through him in the scenes that lead up to the point Ken is suppose to kill Ray. Gleeson is quite effective in showing the loss of that joy in his performance, and in his scenes with Ray Gleeson shows that the thought of killing his friend won't stop weighing on his mind.
Ken does not go through with the order from Harry, and instead decides to face off with his old rather ill tempered friend. Just like his scenes with Farrell, Gleeson just has a great chemistry with Fiennes. Fiennes' performance which is just one big ball of intensity, is brilliantly played off by Gleeson who calmly deals with him. Together the two actors are extremely entertaining as the two work off each other brilliantly. What is so fascinating about the relationship between this two is underlying both of the strong opposition each other show to one another is a history of friendship and respect the two have for one another.
Here Gleeson is terrific because he honestly shows Ken's strong belief that Ray can improve himself. Gleeson actually makes this more than friendship really, but rather his own sense that Ray could turn out a better man than himself. There is an unshakable belief Gleeson portrays in Ken that creates his drive to protect Ray from Harry. It is an interesting tragic portrait of complete selflessness that Gleeson portrays. His final scene is made truly heartbreaking by Gleeson as he convincingly brings to life Ken's complete devotion to trying to save the life of his friend. This is a great performance by Gleeson filled with humor, but as well is a very moving portrayal of this killer who probably knows more than one should in his line of work.