Bronson (2008)
By: Julian on April 7, 2011  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 5.1 | 88 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Tom Hardy, James Lance, Matt King, Amanda Burton
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn, Brock Norman Brock
Country: UK
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Bronson is a biopic on the life of Michael Gordon Peterson, aka Charles Bronson, routinely referred to by the press as 'the most violent criminal in Britain' and a man who has spent most of his life behind bars. Interned at Wakefield, the "Monster Mansion" housing Britain's worst, Peterson is an antisocial nutter, a man whose stock standard response to adversity (or even in response to no provocation at all) is to use his fists.

Bronson is biographical however, while I'm not well versed in Mr Peterson's life and crimes, I am led to believe that it is by no means closely accurate. Still, Bronson is an enormously entertaining film: idiosyncratic, sure, but at times hysterical and others unremittingly brutal. The film begins with Peterson (Tom Hardy, a hugely talented performer who does a terrific job here), heavily made-up in clown regalia, narrating on a stage before an adoring audience. This sets the slightly oddball tone of the film from the outset, and the moral seems to be that while Peterson may be an animal, perhaps he's not to be taken all that seriously.

Peterson takes us back to the beginning when, at aged 19, he saws off a shotgun and robs a post office, terrorising its employees and making off with a paltry loot. He is apprehended by the end of the day and is sentenced to seven years jail, a figure that snowballs as Peterson commits assault after assault against guards and inmates (but mostly guards). He is a violent, unhinged psychopath whose crimes, incredibly, were never murder. After a failed stint at a psychiatric ward, and about two months out in the real world, Peterson is returned to prison, with most of his days spent in solitary confinement, and never to be released.

As a way of coping with prison life, Peterson adopts the name 'Charles Bronson' after the Death Wish star, and he carries the aggressive, retributive persona to match: namely against his captors and the society that imprisoned him. Peterson/Bronson curries favour among his fellow inmates by making the guards' lives hell, occasioning bodily harm on them but mostly just lashing out for a few seconds, landing a couple of decent blows, before he is restrained and thrown into solitary for the umpteenth time. By the film's end, the takeover of Peterson by Bronson is complete: an unrestrained ego, performing in front of admiring fans, firms him as a master of delusion.

Bronson is a disgraceful human being, and co-writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn (a Danish filmmaker who previously helmed the Pusher trilogy) presents him with no redeeming features at all. In this respect, Refn and fellow screenwriter Brock Norman Brock do a pretty superficial job. Skerricks of dimension arise during the comic interludes, where Bronson addresses a packed audience: we realise pretty fast that this is a man of profound, jaw-dropping delusion. However, there is a surreal element to the narrative that proscribes this from being a really serious character study, so Refn and Brock might be forgiven for making something that on its face seems just a bit, well, facile. That does make it a little bit tough to get into the film too deeply, but it certainly takes nothing away from its entertainment factor.

While Refn and Brock have some trouble fleshing out Bronson, the main talent here is Hardy's performance of him. It is sensational; the sort of psycho turn that sends chills and elicits uneasy laughter simultaneously. Hardy channels a sort of demented Daniel Day-Lewis (although that might just be the Gangs of New York-era moustache talking) to translate Bronson to the screen and it works a charm.

Refn's direction is slick, taut and stylish. He works with his material exceptionally well and, ably assisted by a highly technically proficient crew, Refn creates 89 minutes of absolutely mesmerising cinema. Highly recommended.
The film, presented in 16:9, is crisp, well-lit and quite beautifully shot by DP Larry Smith. Before plying his trade as a cinematographer, Smith cut his teeth as a crewman on some Kubrick films, including The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut. He was taught well.
Two English audio tracks are provided, 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby. The 5.1 is clear and well-balanced.
Extra Features
An audio commentary with Refn, an interview with Refn, a theatrical trailer and trailers for other Madman discs are provided.
The Verdict
If Refn's weakness is in fleshing out his lead character, his undeniable strength is to create a powerful, visceral piece of work that possesses a completely nihilistic, anarchic mood. Bronson is a brutal, uncompromising movie but it has an immense amount of style; this is probably as elegant as obscenely antisocial, violent macho prison films get.
Movie Score
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