Review: Bronx

Bronx

Trailer

The brightest shot in the film.

I will admit, this was a bit of a Hail Mary pass in terms of me trying to find a good 2020 release available in the last week. There were other options, but none of them really appealed to me, so I turned to this, that I refuse to call by its amazingly lame English-language title of “Rogue City” (Bronx might be a tad confusing, but the alternative is a stinker). I mean, there were multiple things recommending Bronx. Hard-boiled crime dramas can be very entertaining, and the setting allowed for a bit of exoticism. And I will generally watch Jean Reno in anything still, even if he has sort of vanished from prominent view recently (his part in Da 5 Bloods notwithstanding).

But I do admit, it wasn’t very long into Bronx that I began to wonder if I might be better off not calling an early halt and trying something else. Films of this nature seem dead set against waking up and smelling the modern-day coffee: a blend that is getting further and further away in the zeitgeist, as America debates on defunding its militarised police force provoke a larger conversation on the role of gendarmes all over the world. In that lens, a film where muscle-bound cops decide the best way to deal with their problems is to mount-up with enough military hardware to take on a Thunder Run to Baghdad seems a tad unpalatable. Was Bronx able to win me back over, or should I have changed the channel?

In the crime-ridden surrounds of Marseilles, Vronski (Lannick Gautry) leads an armed anti-gang squad, whose number includes deteriorating alcoholic Willy (Stanislas Merhar). A new Chief of Police’s (Reno) arrival coincides with a bloody gangland shooting, propelling Vronski’s squad down a dark and dangerous path of official and vigilante justice.

Oh boy, this film. Let’s just talk for a moment about how it opens, as a means of examining what it is trying to get across, and why this is so laughable. So we have this heavily armed SWAT-esque team of police, all broad-chested special-ops types. There’s the seasoned veteran, the screw-up, the young one, and the token minority. There’s a woman in there too, but she never gets to actually do anything. Anyway, before the title comes up they are tasked with transporting an aging convicted gang leader from one prison to another. In the course of this trip, said convict asks if they can make a detour so he can visit his terminally ill wife in hospital, a request the courts denied. The leader of the SWAT team not only decides to allow it, not only allows it to happen with only him accompanying the convict, not only stays outside the room as the convict’s insistence, but goes so far as to not interfere when he sees the convict euthanising his wife with a pillow (at her request). Later on, he receives no punishment, censure or reprimand for his actions. Welcome to Bronx, where very little makes sense other than the general idea of “bad-ass cops can do what they want”. Such 1970’s style bravado will make the 2020 viewer scoff more than be impressed.

Bronx proceeds as such. Our bad-ass cops are here to shoot first, and only ask questions if it is plot convenient, and a narrative based around corruption in the force, a game of thrones in the Marseille underworld and the personal foibles of the SWAT team rapidly becomes too morose, boring and unengaging on all fronts. While not badly acted in most respects – well, Reno is most definitely phoning it in, but the rest are fine for what the parts are – Bronx simply cannot hold itself together: a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, and without an ounce of genuine excitement.

On the corruption in the police narrative, Bronx rapidly becomes a tad confusing, as a succession of characters, including some of the nominal heroes, all dip their toes in the world of back-handers, secret tip-offs and covert operations for their own enrichment. I think that Oliver Marchel’s point might be that good and bad people can both easily get swept up in such affairs, but it’s hard to actually understand that the nominal protagonists are any different to the nominal antagonists really. Instead we struggle to keep up with exchanges of money, who is screwing who and, most importantly, why anyone is actually doing what they are doing. Misplaced senses of honour, power, money, it’s all mostly left to the viewers imagination.

As for the actual criminal bad guys, they are just supporting players here, the warm bodies to be shot up or exploded in a few scenes to keep things lively, rather than effective characters of their own. It’s a cops and robbers story, but only half of the equation is given the time that it needs, and that half wastes it. Vronski and his pregnant partner on their houseboat, Willy and his alcoholic-infused deterioration of his marriage, the Chief of Police’s sketchy connections and how his daughter is cozying up the wrong guy, Bronx wants you to believe that this is character advancement worth seeing, but it isn’t: Vronski’s partner is just a woman to be threatened (indeed, all of the women in the film are non-entities or victims to some degree), the ending of Willy’s plot is shown in the first 30 seconds of the film in a literal “Three weeks earlier” flashback and if Reno doesn’t care about his character enough to put any bit of life into him, then why should I care?

I’ve rarely seen Reno less up for it.

So Bronx unfolds along a tedious near-two hour running time, as betrayals occur and deals are made, leading up to a finale that was truly laughable in how edgy and grimdark it wanted to be. I genuinely don’t mind spoiling things too much in this case, given how bad the material is: the “rocks fall, everybody dies” approach that Marchel takes here, and the manner in which he arranges us, was perhaps meant to be tragic and thematic, in terms of a “violence begets violence” message. But so illogical is it, and so stinking of “We don’t know how to finish this story”, that it can only produce eye-rolling and titters. Such bleakness is nihilism taken to an extreme that will appeal to male teenagers and few others.

Bronx is a dull, grimy looking affair. The tourism board of Marseille is sure to not really be super-happy about this one, where the brightest glimpses of the city are ahead of a mass shooting at a bar, or a murder-suicide, or the insanity of the film’s conclusion (did I mention that must murders in this film happen in broad daylight? Did they not have the cameras for night time or something?). In every other aspect, the city is made to look ill-lit, dirty and not particularly pleasant. Of course this must be the point, and very intentional, but for me it crossed the line from creating a mood to adding to the idea that the film was a goofy cartoon, approaching the status of being a parody of this genre instead of being part of it. There isn’t much to be said about the film’s few fleeting action sequences either, which are big on the squibs and the loud gunshots, and short on genuinely engaging visual technique. One, a shoot-out on a beach, is shot so dark that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, who is shooting who and who, if anyone, we should be rooting for.

In that larger sense, Bronx feels like a film from a man who is raging against the dying of the light. It is a fact that too many police forces around the world are becoming indistinguishable from militaries, and it is a fact that the excusing or even glorification of “good cops” – wherein such cops are defined as not kowtowing to the restrictions of law, order and justice in pursuit of criminals – has become a very tired and, well, a very done with trope, more and more. While everyone and their partners seems to end up dead by the conclusion of Bronx, the overall feeling is undoubtedly that if only the stuck-up bureaucrats at the head of the table would let Vronski and his violent compatriots do their jobs, then everything would work out fine. Such thinking is at best backwards, and at worst abhorrent: it reminds me too much of Dragged Across Concrete, and that is not a film that you should ever want yours compared to. I suppose it should come as no surprise that Marchal has a background in the police.

So, Bronx was a bust. I probably should have stopped watching after the first twenty or so minutes, when it had become rapidly clear what kind of film Bronx was going to turn out to be. And that is a film that has little interesting to say and takes too long to say it: a dull police drama, a non-existent criminal drama, and a frighteningly ill-pitched character drama. The cast is alright, save a few who seem to have chucked in the towel early, but they can’t do much about a film that is scripted this poorly, filmed this poorly and edited this poorly. Netflix has done better with this genre, and recently. Coming out so soon after The Trial Of The Chicago 7 shone a light on the entrenched nature of police over-reach, Bronx feels like a step decidedly in the wrong direction. Not recommended.

Seriously, what is that title?

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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1 Response to Review: Bronx

  1. Pingback: Film Rankings And Awards 2020 | Never Felt Better

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