Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Tom Hardy
It is an exceedingly hard thing to make a movie which is basically one character. It requires a director of exceptional skill and an actor of superlative talent. When not done properly, it comes off as pretentious and self-indulgent, or worst, boring. However, when done correctly, it can be a riveting tour-de-force. I already reviewed one such film here, Duncan Jones’s Moon, an exceptional film with great direction and an incredible performance by Sam Rockwell. Although I haven’t seen it, similar acclaim has been bestowed on 127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco.
However, lemme tell you straight, as much as I loved Moon, and even not having seen 127 Hours, I can tell you with full confidence: they don’t have SHIT on Bronson.
Bronson is, quite simply, an EVENT of a film. It is raw. It is violent… no, scratch that, it is VIOLENCE made film. It is subtle as a shotgun blast to the balls. It is refined as eating chocolate-covered bacon from a hooker’s asshole. It is FUCKING AWESOME.
The titular Bronson is Charles Bronson(not the actor, but taking his name as his own), formerly known as Michael Peterson, a real life prisoner from Britain. Or make that THE real life prisoner from Britain. Bronson is Britain’s most famous prisoner, being probably the most violent individual to ever go through Her Majesty’s penal system. And his life’s story makes for an entertaining-as-all-fuck flick.
The film starts with Bronson’s youth, showing his propensity for violence at an early age. Mostly being free to do as he pleased since childhood(in a flashback, it’s shown his parents don’t do anything to discourage his sociopathic behavior), Bronson grows up to be a macho, violent, swaggering man who won’t tell you anything he can beat into you instead. Caught on a petty theft rap, which escalates to assaulting police officers, he is sentenced to 7 years in prison, with possible parole at 4. Instead, it becomes the start of Bronson’s LONG existence as a prisoner, since his sociopathic behavior keeps adding years to his sentence. Becoming a celebrity amongst his prison mates for his contempt for authority and chaotic behavior, he eventually goes on a grand tour of the British prison system, being shafted from facility to facility in an attempt to find one that could handle him. The real-life Bronson was originally jailed in 1974, and he’s STILL in prison, the majority of his time there in solitary confinement. That should give you a good idea of how well THAT worked. Even though it’s a biopic, so you can pretty much know all that happened by reading an article, I refuse to continue the synopsis, since this is a movie you NEED to see.
Bronson’s story needed to be told in a visceral manner, and director Nicolas Winding Refn fucking nailed it. The movie is raw, violent, and relentlessly funny. Winding uses the ingenious device of showing Bronson performing a stage act to an imaginary audience, basically narrating his life story as a vaudeville show. Not only does it give the movie an interesting framing device, it also gives viewers an insight into the way Bronson’s mind works, which makes all the happenings on screen that much more fascinating. Without Bronson’s narration and imaginary show, the movie would just be about a violent sociopath who stupidly keeps getting into trouble in prison so he’ll never be let out. With the framing device, he becomes a glory-seeking specialist of violence who relishes in causing pain and being the center of attention(indeed, it’s shown he wears the title of Britain’s most violent criminal with morbid pride).
All this great direction and scripting would be nothing without an actor to pull it off. And holy shit, Tom Hardy is fucking AMAZING. He is, quite simply, glorious to watch. Every single second he’s on screen you can feel the intensity bleeding out of it. Hardy plays Bronson as a good-humored raging psychopath, a man who is only truly happy involved in bone-crushing violence. He also plays him with brutish charm: he’s not only a violent man, but an expressive and gleefully entertaining one. Every second of the film he exudes nothing but bravado and contempt for authority. He simply flat-out refuses to play by any rules but his own, and will not dare let an offense go by without punishing the offender. There are other actors in the film, and they all turn in wonderful performances, but they are, ultimately, incidental. They are there for Hardy to play off of, their characters are there to react to Bronson. Both Bronson and Hardy playing him are the stars of the show, and both the character and the actor relish the role. I dunno if the real-life Bronson can watch this movie(after all, he’s in a cell isolated from the world), but I bet if he did, he’d probably cry and hug Tom Hardy for such a flattering performance. It takes a superb actor to turn a sociopath into a charming, interesting character, and Hardy certainly did that. This is the film that put Hardy on the fast track to movie stardom, and he most certainly earned every accolade showered on him. Oh, and as an aside, kudos on Hardy for willing to go full-frontal, it takes balls(no pun intended) to do it.
Like its protagonist, the movie itself is dirtily and grittily filmed. No fades, no soft pans, everything is in-your-face. If there’s a moment of quiet, it is merely calm before a storm. However, the vaudeville scenes form a very striking and interesting visual contrast to the prison scenes, being colorful and full of whimsy. Hardy excels in both environments of the film, and is entertaining both as a storyteller and as a protagonist.
Watch. This. Film. I cannot stress this enough. I recommend this film wholeheartedly. It is fiercely entertaining. Knowing that this guy actually exists makes it more so. My highest recommendation. FUCK do I ever love this film!!!