Del and Mladen review ‘Rogue City / Bronx’

Image courtesy of Gaumont.

“Rogue City,” aka “Bronx” Starring Lannick Gautry, Stanislas Merhar, Kaaris, David Bell, Barbara Opsomer and Jean Reno. Directed by Olivier Marchal. 116 minutes. Rated TV-MA. Netflix.

Del’s take

What the hell is the name of this movie? “Bronx” or “Rogue City”?

It’s both. Released in some countries as “Bronx,” it appears on Netflix as “Bronx” and “Rogue City,” a bit much to ask of somebody in a vomit-soaked wifebeater waking up from a 12-beer bender.

Should you choose to go this route, prepare yourself for a gritty, nasty, violent crime drama where the line between cops and robbers, good guys and bad, is described perfectly by one of the kingpins negotiating a deal with anti-gang unit boss Richard Vronski (Lannick Gautry):

“You know the only difference between you and me? A police badge.”

That message is conveyed throughout the movie in a multiplicity of ways, straight to the bitter – and I do mean bitter – end credits.

“Bronx” is about a local police anti-gang unit operating to thwart the activities of drug gangs in Marseilles (yes, the movie is French, and it is subtitled, so there goes about 85 percent of the American audience). The unit has become as thuggish and brutal in its methods as the criminals it seeks to suppress, drawing the ire of Internal Affairs and other elements of the French law enforcement community.

As the story progresses we come to know that everyone in the Marseilles police department is in cahoots with the crime community EXCEPT some of the guys on the anti-gang unit. I’ll let you decide who’s on the take and who’s just an asshole.

The story is a typically bleak modern viewpoint, made special by its cinematography and explicit violence. I expect Mladen was disappointed by the level of mayhem, but to my sensitive palate “Bronx” was soaked through and through with shocking footage both overt and suggested. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to cinematic violence. But it must serve a storytelling purpose. In the case of “Bronx,” violence was the story.

Acting was solid, with the incomparable Jean Reno playing a role contrary to his character type. One of the pleasures I get from watching foreign movies is seeing how other people live, and “Bronx” provides an extensive look at that aspect of French citizenship. Apparently shiny floor tiles is a thing in Marseilles.

What I did not like about “Bronx” was its heavy-headed subtext and dystopian worldview. The chief of the anti-gang unit, Vronski, is named after a “motherfucker” from a Tolstoy novel, according to a crime boss, one of the few human-like creatures in the film. I would like to believe people are not as selfish and hateful as the Marseilles anti-gang unit and their persons of interest, but maybe I’m wrong. After enduring four years of the Trump administration I should no longer harbor such idealistic fantasies.

Still, “Bronx” is entertaining, though it requires a strong stomach for those sensitive to blood. I’m not sure what the title is meant to convey – maybe a European conception of what a crime-riddled American city must be like. If so, I would say America’s Bronx has nothing on Marseilles, which comes across a shootout away from total anarchy.

I would give “Bronx” a B.

Mladen’s take

It’s tough to tell. Am I tepid about the French movie “Bronx” because Del promised it was uber-violent but wasn’t? Or, am I disappointed because the cop/gang/drug war movie was disorienting?

Disorienting, how? Well, there were shifting alliances and billions of character names thrown around. There was not one single good guy or wonderful gal in the whole damn Netflix film. Not one. Yes, there were a couple of less than bad guys – the Internal Affairs investigator, for example – but a prominent good person would’ve helped me track the bad guys, which would’ve helped me follow the story. All the cops were corrupt or otherwise compromised, e.g., one cop screwing another cop’s wife. The drug gangs were, ah, Mexican cartel-like drug gangs. Fighting brutally for territory and respect, though their marketplace was Marseilles, a city of some 900,000 people. Wouldn’t it have been more productive for everyone involved to divvy the city into parcels using socioeconomic data to ensure each gang gets a fair and balanced share of jack from drug peddling?

By the time “Bronx” ends, you feel like you’ve been seeing from the inside the way the outgoing and bonkers Trump administration operates. Everyone inside the police department is part of clique that protects its own from the other cliques in the police department. Unflinching loyalty, rather than decency, honor, public service, or competence, is the play. Non-legal side hustles and betrayal are the norm. The drug gangs, think of one as Vladimir Putin and the other, oh, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dick with each other until everyone but a cop unit from a different police department ends up dead. Absurd.

“Bronx” isn’t introspective. It isn’t didactic. It isn’t good versus bad. It’s bad versus an ever badder bad interwoven with the kind of incomprehensibility you find in films such as “Inception” or “Tenet.” The moral turpitude and nearly unfathomable complexity became tiring after a while. And, one of the movie’s principal firefights occurred at night, which, again, was disorienting. I had no idea who was shooting at whom. So, instead of a gun battle at the OK Corral, or whatever, the viewer gets muzzle flashes and plinking bullets from every direction amid vast deposits of black screen. Besides, if everyone in “Bronx” is a bad dude or dudette, who cares which one of them dies?

Wait. It just occurred to me. The reason I mostly disliked the movie. Its intrigue and violence reflected the malaise of normal life on Earth these days. “Bronx” relied on narcissism and nihilism to see it through. Its violence lacked the wholesomeness of the man vs. computer action in “The Matrix.” It wasn’t the survival violence of man vs. nature as portrayed in “Jaws.” It wasn’t the tired violence of a war fought too long as on display in “Fury.” It wasn’t the outrageous and playful violence of “John Wick” Chapter 1 and “John Wick” Chapter 2. “Bronx” violence was about the Euro with a dose of racism pitched in. Eh.

“Bronx” had some money behind it because its production value was good. The acting was decent. I saw no trouble with film editing. The score, though indistinctive, fit the movie well enough. I found myself imitating in pretend French the catchy song at the end of the film.

Bronx gets a C+ and Del needs to hone his definition of “violent.” This movie was no “Scarface.”

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.