Review by Jack Foley
THE Daily Mail has already seen fit to protest about the release of Bronson, a violent look at the life and times of “Britain’s most violent prisoner”. But while the newspaper may have a point, Nicolas Winding Refn’s hallucinatory biopic doesn’t fail for some of the more obvious reasons.
Rather, by adopting a self-consciously arty approach, Bronson neglects to provide any real insight into the man behind the violence and ends up feeling like a pointless exercise in style over substance.
It’s stylishly shot and features an audacious central performance from Tom Hardy, but it’s also an ugly, brutal film that doesn’t really villify its central character, or spare much thought for his victims.
For anyone that doesn’t know, Charles Bronson (born Michael Peterson) was sent to prison following a bungled armed robbery in which no one was hurt. Originally sentenced to seven years, Peterson developed a reputation (and passion) for thuggery, regularly starting fights with prison guards and taking hostages.
Over the ensuing years, he was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor, then de-categorised and released, became a bare knuckle brawler (during which he re-christened himself Charles Bronson) and then committed another robbery, for which he was sent back inside. Since then, he has spent 34 years in solitary confinement. Crucially, while dubbed Britain’s most notorious and violent criminal, he has never killed anyone.
Refn – hitherto best known for directing the Pusher trilogy – references most of the landmark moments in Bronson’s life, and acknowledges that his actions didn’t stem from a violent upbringing. But he fails to really lift the lid on the enigma. Why he became a violent, fame-seeking “psychopath” remains unclear.
Instead, his film emerges as a piece of performance art, with Hardy often seen to be presenting his life story to an appreciative stage audience. There’s no real sense of regret, pain, or intent… although Hardy’s bold performance does convey the sheer unpredictability and volatility of the man.
It’s been likened, in some quarters, to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and there are similarities. But Bronson is not insightful enough to really stand shoulder to shoulder with Kubrick’s vision.
Rather, it’s a bold but failed movie that does feel morally dubious given that it puts the spotlight back on a criminal who willfully resorted to violence in order to get it in the first place. Should filmmakers really be encouraging him?
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD Release: July 6, 2009