Ralph Fiennes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Waters in In Bruges.
This is actually hard performance to begin with and what makes it so good, because everything about it is just so good, so I might as well start at the beginning which is his specific role in the film. He portrays the technical villain who at first order the hit man Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to kill the other hit man Ray (Colin Farrell) who botched a job. After Ken refuses it is up to Harry who sent the men to Bruges to go there himself to deal with them. Fiennes as a villain is terrific in being a constant clear violent threat that seems ready to kill or at least violently injure without delay.
Ralph Fiennes though brings the appropriate threat at all times as Harry whether it is overtly being especially forceful in the rather insane levels of anger Harry can get to when set off. He though is equally effective as being such when he is not overtly angry. One facial reactions I particularly love of Fiennes is when the pitiful thief injured by Ray gets offended by Harry and gets ready to possibly attack him, Fiennes's face is just perfect. In just the single look there is joy even in Harry's face which suggests that Harry is pretty much ready to brutally beat this man, and enjoy it, if he wants to try and cross him.
Fiennes though does not just settle for being an excellent villain though with this performance, because he never stops being funny either. Fiennes is the master of every line that he says in this performance and is consistently hilarious no matter the situation. This is true when he is loudly launching into expletives at anyone who ticks him off in the slightest, where Fiennes never loses a second and turns this into an art form with Harry. It is equally true when he is a little quieter such as his distinct verbal beat down of the pathetic thief, or his absolutely perfect reaction when he gets offered an Uzi to do his job. Fiennes always turns every reaction and line into comedic gold.
What is amazing is that Fiennes does not just stop after being both a proper villain, and constantly amusing. Fiennes also goes all the way in making Harry a three dimensional character, as his want to kill Ray has nothing to do with hate. The reason Harry wants to kill him ray is that Ray accidentally killed a kid, and Harry feels that proper honor requires one to accept punishment for doing something so terrible. Importantly is that this is not some senseless thing that Harry is using for an excuse to kill Ray, rather Fiennes shows repeatedly that he deeply does believe it fully. He is particular terrific in his wonderfully bizarre scene where Harry tells his family he has to settle something for honor's sake. Fiennes leaves no question that Harry deeply believes in it, and Fiennes makes the scenes oddly poignant while still funny of course.
Fiennes coming in so late into the film as has quite something to live up to against Colin Farrell's and Brendan Gleeson's outstanding performances. Fiennes though is able to do this, and this is especially helped by his absolutely spectacular chemistry with Brendan Gleeson. Only lightly hinted at in terms of the dialogue, but Fiennes and Gleeson are outstanding in showing that the two have clearly a long friendship, and although at odd the two actors marvelously portray an undercurrent of understanding of each other that suggest that. I particularly love the scene where Ken tells Harry why he had to let Ray go, as well as why he will not fight Harry because he respects him too much to do so. Fiennes reaction is stunning as he is able to convey at the same time the anger he feels for Ken not doing what he told him to do, but in his same face is shows that Harry really is moved by Ken's respect for him.
He does something absolutely amazing in his final scene where he actually allows us to sympathize with Harry. The reason being that when Harry has to finally go all the way with his honor, Fiennes shows that Harry's beliefs where not just something his said. His quiet horrified reaction, followed quickly by his understanding of what must be done, is brilliantly played by Fiennes and actually quite moving because he makes it entirely genuine. This is just a great performance from Ralph Fiennes from beginning to end.
He never wastes a single line in his entire performance, he never even
wastes a moment. He is simply a joy to watch every single scene that he
is, and he never for a moment makes this a simple portrayal as Harry could
have been. He never settles to just be one thing, he instead is everything he could be in this part, a comedic tour de force, an imposing villain, a fascinating portrait of a man's honor, and even more.