Panned by critics and moviegoers alike upon its direct-to-video release back in 2000, Bruiser never really found its audience and, ten years later, seems to have been entirely forgotten. And while I realize that I’m in the minority here, I’ve always considered this one to be a bit of an overlooked little gem. George A. Romero’s thirteenth feature as a director, Bruiser, explores themes and ideas that the director has previously mined (particularly in Martin, and the underrated Jack’s Wife), but refuses to be a simple amalgamation of rehashed ideas. On the surface, it’s the story of revenge – as simple or as complex as you want to make it – but also emerges as a study of modern identity in this age of materialism.
It’s the story of Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng), a moderately successful businessman living what appears to be “the good life” at first glance: Married to a gorgeous wife (Nina Garbiras), working for a successful fashion magazine and enjoying the surroundings of a new and expensive home, these surface attributes of an ideal existence make it look as though Henry has it all. Below the surface, however, Creedlow is nothing more than a human floor mat. Burdened by a constantly nagging wife (“I fucked my way to the bottom.” – ouch!), a thieving best friend and a power-hungry boss (Peter Stormare), Henry’s life could be better. Revenge fantasies fill his head throughout his day-to-day, but it’s all bottled up until he catches his wife and boss screwing at a company cookout. Henry is plunged into a state of anonymity when he awakens the next morning – literally without a face. Now, separated from the confines of consequence (no face, no identity), Henry transforms into a murderer whose vengeance quest is the only cathartic release.
Similar to Martin, it’s unclear as to whether or not the blank visage is simply a psychological hallucination on Henry’s part (which would explain why the character bothers to don a blank mask over his non-existent face in the final half), or some sort of unexplainable phenomenon. Just as audiences continue debating the authenticity of Martin’s vampirism some thirty years later, Creedlow’s condition is every bit as ambiguous. And while Martin explored a dying, working-class town, Bruiser sets its sights on the mores of American society: a radio call-in program which exploits the suicide of a caller, the aforementioned assortment of sleaze ball characters and, finally, the grand finale masquerade ball which effortlessly disintegrates into a grandiose and sleazy freak show. This is vintage Romero from start to finish.
To accent the complexity of the script, Romero outfits his cast with some fantastic performances. Jason Flemyng makes Creedlow as sympathetic as he is likeable – more so once he starts exacting his revenge, while Peter Stormare may be a bit too over-the-top for some, although his character does get a solid amount of laughs as his character unleashes a whirlwind of apathetic vanity. As Stormare’s unhappy wife, Leslie Hope isn’t given much to do, but she shares good chemistry with Flemyng, allowing audiences to invest in their relationship. Of course, mention MUST be made of genre God, Tom Atkins. While Atkins has the role of (what else?) a grizzled detective searching for the ‘faceless’ killer, it turns out to be a memorable role in what would’ve surely been a thankless part in the hands of almost any other actor. In fact, the movie is worth watching if for no other reason than his delivery of the line, ”what the fuck is wrong with these people?” at the climactic costume ball.
What’s refreshing and admirable about Romero’s work (all of it), is to see that he hasn’t changed much in his forty plus year career. He’s never altered his underlying (occasionally heavy-handed) style for the benefit of making a film more ‘accessible’, and, even his missteps (like Diary of the Dead) contain enough food for thought to inspire a second viewing. Brusier isn’t perfect. The climax, while fun, fizzles out before it manages to satisfy, and I would’ve liked to have seen a little more accent on making the murder set pieces scary or brutal. The faceless visage of our main character is a wonderfully creepy image – one that’s never explored in full. However, anyone looking for a film that requires and rewards multiple viewings should give this picture a fighting chance. It doesn’t necessarily demand repeat viewings but, after dusting this off earlier in the week for the first time in years, I will say that it’s aged remarkable well in this era of financial disaster and corporate greed.
As thoughtful and interesting as anything in George’s canon, Bruiser isn’t an example of the director’s fleeting abilities as some have proclaimed. On the contrary, it’s a showcase for Romero’s surviving abilities: razor sharp wit, pitch-black humor and his knack for societal scrutiny. In short: all the things he does best. They’ve remained intact and, with any luck, they’ll continue to stay that way. This one isn’t perfect, but it entertains while making you think. For that alone I think this one is worthy of reappraisal.
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