Bruiser (2000)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 11, 2009  | 
Siren (Australia). Region 4, PAL.
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Jason Flemyng, Peter Stormare, Leslie Hope, Nina Gabiras, Andrew Tarbet, Tom Atkins, Jonathan Higgins
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Country: USA
External Links
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A lot of people won't watch a George A Romero film unless it has the words "Of the Dead" in the title. These people are fools. In a career that has spanned just over 40 years, Romero has made plenty of interesting, thought-provoking films which have examined his acerbic take on modern society and haven't had to rely of shuffling undead to make his point. Romero's films usually examine the plight of the common man in a society that is practically inimical, and one whereby living a decent life has become increasingly difficult, if not nigh on impossible. Bruiser is no exception. I guess a lot of folks will disagree with me on this given that the film is not a popular entry in Romero's ouevre, but to my mind this is a film like Romero's personal favourite from his own canon of work, Martin, a film that branches out past the usual norms of the horror film and tries to deal with notions of identity in a personal way, on a small scale and with a fair amount of sadly necessary tragedy. The condition of the modern man, the individual or outsider, is not a happy one in either film.

Henry Creedlow is a failure. Oh, not in the traditional sense – from the outside he looks every part the success story: nice big house in the 'burbs, stunning wife and a high-paid job with fashion magazine "Bruiser". But when you look a little more closely (and it only needs to be that little bit more), the cracks begin very quickly to show: the house is unfinished, perennially under repair, the wife is an unfaithful, shrewish and demanding harpy, and the job is a thankless one, working under a tyrannical, coke-snorting, philandering and boorish boss. In a more real sense, his life is big pile of shit. He's deeply unhappy and yet still puts up with things, trying to follow the rules, live down to expectation and not cause a ruckus by ever trying to assert himself. His friends and workmates are, for the better part, truly awful people. His day to day life is one you wouldn't wish upon the dead.

When we first see Henry (the eminently sympathetic Jason Flemyng making a reasonable attempt at an American accent), he's going through his morning routine while listening to an early morning chat show. The chat show becomes a recurring motif for society's discontent within itself, with callers in (one of whom I'd bet my back teeth is Romero doing a cameo – doesn't say so in the credits, but jeez, that voice sounds familiar) regularly dwelling on abjection and suicide, rather than dealing with the awfulness of modern life. His loveless marriage is evident from the get-go, his wife Janine's dog (one of those horrid little yappy carpet bugs that serve no purpose, but which society women seem to think are necessary fashion accoutrements) is a symbol of the divide between them. Walking to work, which seems to him to be about as inviting as walking the plank, he meets his scumbag friend Jimbo who seems to live more successfully in this unfriendly world – mainly because he's ripping Henry off blind as his stock-broker, unbeknownst to poor, trusting Henry. Jimbo's new model Mercedes-Benz would be proof enough of that.

Henry's being troubled by visions of violence – suicide and murder, which is an adequate enough way of foreshadowing a sudden upcoming shift in his personality, but when he gets to work, you can almost understand why he'd be thinking like this. His colleagues largely ignore him, he's like human wallpaper to them – he just doesn't fit in. Awkward and sensitive and really only connecting with photographer Rose, his way of living is totally at odds with his world, a world typified by his complete arse-hole boss Milo. And that world? Harsh, unsympathetic, pragmatic and cruel.

At Milo's pool-party and bar-be-que for his employees, Rose takes a plaster cast of Henry's face for her collection of masks, commenting that it has no features, no discerning marks or contours of any kind – a totally blank plane devoid of any character, which, if you consider his fish out of water, personality-nullifying existence, is true in more ways than one. His lack of character even streches to not complaining when he sees Janine rather openly giving Milo a hand-job at the bar. Rose asks him to decorate the mask she makes from the cast, to decorate it in a way that will let people know that it's him, but Henry's is left a blank white visage – a nothing.

On the drive home from the party Janine really lets Henry have it, calling him a nothing and a nobody – this is about to become more true than she realises. Henry wakes the following morning to find that his face has disappeared – in its place the bland white mask he couldn't personalise for Rose, and it's become part of him, attached to his flesh. His identity, suppressed for so many years letting people like Janine, Jimbo and Milo ride rough-shod all over him and take advantage of him, has gone. Now, he has to work hard to get it back. It's time for vengeance!

First cab off the rank: Katie, the maid who's been ripping the Creedlows off, stealing their booze, their silverware and their cash. Henry beats her to death with a bagful of her ill-gotten booty, at first believing that it's one of his visions, but soon realising that this is an all-too-real scenario he now has to deal with. While trying to roll with this, Janine comes home after a night of fucking his boss, and Henry overhears her on the phone planning a dirty weekend away with Milo, adding more fuel to his fire. He follows her to the "Bruiser" offices, where she's meeting Milo for a quick fuck on the board room table before flying off for yet more fucking in places exotic. Unfortunately for the love birds, they get sprung by their respective better halves – Rose has taken a photo in flagrante delicto, and while Milo tries to reason with her in another room, Henry pays a visit to Janine. Henry has rapidly started to discover all kinds of things about himself, most notably his all-new propensity for violence and vengeance. Janine makes a pretty spectacular exit, reminiscent of one of the early murders in Suspiria, although whether or not that was intended is not for me to say. Even if Henry is not altogether satisfied, the audience certainly are...for the moment. Anyone who's ever been cheated on will know exactly what I'm talking about right here. Even if you've never actually wanted to kill somebody for having betrayed you so completely, and worse yet, with the worst kind of person in the world, the vicarious thrill here is undeniable. You always want some form of revenge, and given Henry's status as the "everyman", we just got it.

Enter: Detective McCleary (the always reliable Romero regular Tom Atkins), who now tries to get to the bottom of the case, not that he's given much to work with. This is one of the interesting points raised in the film – McCleary represents law and order on the level of society, and obviously finding a murderer is in his interest, thus solving a crime and hopefully righting a wrong. But who's going to right the wrongs that Henry's suffered, if not Henry himself? Notions of justice, morality, right and wrong and vengeance are the cornerstones of revenge films, and the assumptions about them we have to judge on based on the merits of the individual story. Here, we want to see Henry achieve justice for all the awful indignities his life has thrown at him. That means we're, on a legal level, rooting for the bad guy. McCleary wants to capture the villain, but that of course upsets our notions of natural justice – who will pay for what's been done to Henry if McCleary catches him? That shit ain't right. We want to see the traditional forces of law and order fail, because they're not capable of redressing all of the wrongs our hero has had to deal with. Puts you in an interesting moral situation.

In the fallout (no pun intended) from Janine's death a few things become apparent to Henry. Firstly, that the police believe that Rose is guilty of the murder (as she's going through a messy divorce with Milo, it seems a reasonable assumption to make), secondly that ol' Jimbo is taking a very keen interest in what will happen financially to the Creedlow estate (via some panicky, ill-advised phone messages), which makes Henry suspicious enough to start looking back through their dealings with the uber-scumbag stock-broker. Thirdly, he's realised that he may at last have a definite need for the rather large handgun he's kept in the house, like any red-blooded American male. Maybe, he thinks, it's time to meet up with Jimbo at the tennis club where Jimbo regularly cheats at their games, a neatly symbolic way of addressing his larger-scale cheating of Henry financially.

McCleary tries to put the pieces together, but isn't having much luck – while Milo has been playing straight with him, he's still an arse-hole and hard to believe, and Rose isn't offering anything useful, and unsurprisingly, Henry hasn't been answering any of the calls that the Police have been making to him. Solving the case of Janine's murder is seeming less and less likely, but hey, points for trying, huh? What is working in his favour is a video surveillance tape from the "Bruiser" offices, which has clear photos of Henry's "face". Oddly enough, despite the fact that he could never decorate the one Rose gave him to give it his personality, he's added to his own blank canvas admirably, coating it in foundation to give him a life-like tone in bad lighting at best, and smearing blood-coloured paint (war-paint?) around the eyes. He's certainly developing an identity – that of the avenger, and now he's starting to look the part.

Oh yeah, remember that meeting with Jimbo I said that Henry wanted. Yeah, well, he has that meeting, and I'll guarantee that Jimbo wishes it hadn't happened. That's what you get for fucking with a friend. And yet again, that poetic justice is meted out in spades. And Henry is about to learn that you really can't trust anybody, and that his good friend Tom (who saw Janine's murder and yet promised not to tell) is about to rat him out, too. But there's something that Tom says that saves him, something that connects with Henry as he's about to pop a cap in Tom's crown.

Penultimate business to attend to: Henry wants to 'fess up to Rose. God knows he's tried to tell her how he felt about her throughout the film, and this, to him, is his last chance. Equipped with an all-new cynical sense of black humour he's probably more able to now than the sensitive, awkward Henry ever would have been. He's almost finished painting his mask, too – and it ain't pretty. If, as Rose initially said, the mask represents the person's identity, then his identity has become pretty darned ugly indeed, and he knows it. That, I guess, is the curse of the revenger – people can agree with your actions, but they'll still find you unforgivable, as Rose states.

There's only one thing left for Henry to do, one final piece of vengeance for him to commit, and that's at "Bruiser"'s Halloween masquerade party. That's right: Milo. I'll leave you here to see the rest of the film for yourself, and believe me, it's worth your seeing. Remember – it's a masquerade party, and Henry, suited up as the Phantom of the Opera (with all of the symbolism that goes with that) is allowed a little more freedom of action than he would have been in a more normal situation – the party certainly ain't normal, given Milo's taste for excess (but hey, he got the Misfits in to play, so he can't be all bad, right?), and Henry, Milo, Rose and McCleary all converge for the conclusion to what's been a pretty wild ride. Henry's been getting his personality back inch-by-inch, time for you to see how the whole shebang ends. I don't think you'll be disappointed – although the very last scene leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and seems uselessly tacked on.

Bruiser, like I said before, is a personal film, that is a film on a very human, individual level. It doesn't try to ape the bigger picture of the director's better known, more sensational films, and on that level, I think it works well. It sets out to be a tale of vengeance, individuality, identity and how fucking appalling the modern world has become, if you want to be a part of it, and a success in it. Romero has always championed the everyman kind of figure, and this film is no different in that regard – Henry and the various pitfalls that he has to face mirror, in a slightly more exaggerated fashion, what we go through on a daily basis. I think that's what makes the film work – we can, to a certain extent, identify with, or at least sympathise with what he goes through, having probably experienced something similar ourselves at least once in our lives. There are certain times where we have to, as he puts it, "eat whatever shit is served up", and what's worse, develop a taste for it, suppressing our own personality and desires for the expectations of the world in which we live, even if that world sucks. Henry's way out of that rat-race is maybe not one for all of us to try, but damn me if it isn't a highly satisfying one to watch.
The picture quality is good, but given that the film is only about ten or so years old, it'd be pretty weird if it wasn't – even if it does look a lot like a DTV release. Pretty vibrant colour and a sharp image anamorphically enhanced, and in the OAR. Neat!
Yeah, a stereo track isn't too much to get excited about, but it sounds good enough to these ears for its purposes. The free-form jazz score is a little oppressive and intrusive at times, but getting a few Misfits tracks towards the end was a definite bonus!
Extra Features
None here. The R1 features an audio commentary from Romero, and according to DVD Compare there is also a German disc that features the commentary and a 5.1 audio track.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A highly underrated film from one of horror's best and brightest, Bruiser is a film I reckon you oughtta have a look at, and if you have seen it, it's worth another look – and a re-evaluation. Many people don't like this film, but I've never really quite understood why. To me it's got the satisfaction to be culled from the goodness of a revenge film, some awesome poetic justice, some really neat set pieces, and a whole bunch of original ideas that maybe would have benefitted from a higher budget. A strong entry in Romero's canon, and one that I'm hoping time will be kind to.

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