BRONSON, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (Pusher trilogy), is the story of a notorious British jailbird “Charles Bronson” played by character actor Tom Hardy. Refn collaborated on the screenplay with Brock Norman Brock, based loosely on the subject’s popular autobiography about his time in prison.
Check out our review below…
- Writer/Director – Nicholas Winding Refn
- Writer – Brock Norman Brock
- Lead Actor – Tom Hardy
- Director of Photography – Larry Smith
At age 22 Michael Peterson began the long and notable life of a hardened criminal. Botching his first armed robbery, he was pinched and sentenced to seven years, becoming a hardened prisoner instead. That first stretch is just the beginning of over thirty years behind bars, mostly in solitary confinement. The movie touches on the milestones of his life: a spell in a mental ward, a set of hostage crises, a brief career as a bareknuckle boxer, a full scale riot of his staging that resulted in $1.5 million in damages, and the last time he walked free for a grand total of…67 days.
- Cinematography: Director Nicholas Winding Refn is completely colorblind, and for that reason he shoots his movies in strong contrast. Larry Smith has used this to his advantage, applying a sumptuous palette that stops just shy of extremes. The result is probably the most visually enlivened prison movie ever made. Considering that 90% of the scenes are interiors, this is somewhat of a necessity.
- Soundtrack: The amount of classical thunder on the soundtrack is one of three red herrings that are prompting the errant Kubrick comparisons that some critics are lazily tossing around (the other two being loooong takes and full frontal male nudity). In “Bronson’s” case, once you get to know him, you can easily believe that he has an orchestra playing nonstop forte in his head.
- Directing: The overall angle Refn takes may be questionable, but as a craftsman he’s one of the most confident directors working. He fearlessly draws out moments, choosing wisely to emphasize the monotony of incarceration rather than shamelessly glamorize it. His most inspired work is the “theater of the mind” abstraction of Bronson’s psyche – a one-man-show with a black tie audience just visible beyond the footlights who all coo and sigh and applaud in strange unison as Bronson regales them (and us) with his life story and gonzo applications of facepaint.
- Tom Hardy: The weird Picard clone from Star Trek: Nemesis? Yes, same guy plus thirty pounds of muscle and thuggery. During the “theater of the mind” sections he’s remarkable, unfurling his psyche, shouting and guffawing and prowling the stage with caustic charm. There are moments when Bronson’s maladjustment comes off as caricature, which can’t be blamed on first day jitters as Refn shoots his films in chronological order. The performance suffers in one section, Bronson’s brief period of freedom, which suggests a failed risky interpretation of Hardy’s or a bit of Refn’s direction gone awry.
- The “Real” Bronson: Refn sneaks in real footage of the riot Bronson started. That little bit of context goes a long way toward reconciling the outlandishness of Hardy’s portrayal with the genuine article.
- Writing/Directing: Shot for shot, Refn has great instincts. Overall his execution is simply off. The real Bronson by all accounts is an incredibly strange and disturbing individual and the movie suffers by eschewing the hard facts for a removed generality. The results are scenes and exchanges that are very familiar. The entitled wardens, the sour faced guards, the listless freaks in the looney bin. Even the dialogue can be shockingly rote (any variation of the phrase “take those pills and shove them up your ass” should be retired). It often resembles a movie we’ve seen before, only with Bronson dropped into it. And if the mental ward comes off dull, that’s a problem.
- Tom Hardy: There are moments when Bronson’s maladjustment plays as caricature, which can’t be blamed on first day jitters as Refn shoots his films in chronological order. The performance suffers in one section, Bronson’s brief period of freedom, and suggests a failed risky interpretation of Hardy’s or a bit of Refn’s direction gone awry. Most likely a little of both.
- The Ending: Without getting into specifics, the movie doesn’t seem sure how it wants to go out, so it does a little bit of everything.
“I am Britain’s most violent prisoner” Bronson boasts directly to camera, only the movie doesn’t seem terribly interested in the truth of that claim or many of the other recorded high points in his thirty odd years of hard time. It takes Bronson for face value and as perversely charming as Hardy’s version may be, the movie can’t support his weight. There is only so much he can do with such generic prison-flavored surroundings. The pinnacle of his mental ward years was a full scale riot that resulted in the burning of a high security psychiatric hospital. One can only imagine what Bronson must have said and done to orchestrate it. But Refn does not want to make a biopic, so you’ll have to settle for a montage of archived news footage of the real Bronson nee Peterson clambering over the rooftops like King Kong. What might have been a glorious coda is just a footnote in thirty years of jail time, just as Bronson, for all its gusto, will be in the long line of slammer sagas to come.
Bronson opens today in select theaters, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.