Title: Bronson (2008)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Tom Hardy
Bronson is a film that has garnered a huge buzz over the net and amongst film buffs/critics. Critical praise has gone through the roof for this Nicolas Winding Refn film. Thing is, the buzz is not without merits, Bronson is a film that is unique and interesting from many different angles. I keep hearing director Nicolas Winding Refn’s name popping up in film conversations, so right now I’m extremely curious for his work. I want to see what the buzz is all about. I recently saw Valhalla Rising (2009) mainly because of praise it got on the dvd cover which called it “Breathtakingly beautiful…unbearably savage” “A hypnotic acid trip of a Viking movie!” and a “Kinetically exciting and thought provoking film” so of course I rented it. Even though it was not as mind blowing as I was expecting it to be, it did give me a unique film experience. But Bronson was really the Nicolas Winding Refn film every one was buzzing about. How was it?
Bronson tells the real life story of Michael Gordon Peterson, a guy who loves getting in trouble. Every problem he ever had in life he's solved by hitting someone, screaming, yelling, intimidating or destroying something. He got into lots of trouble in school for stealing and getting into brawls with his fellow students. Hell, even his teachers got a beating from this guy. This violent way of dealing with life never stopped, even after he got married and became a family man. it was at this piont that Michael Gordon decided to rob a post office. Things didn’t go very well during the robbery because he didn’t manage to steal much. He did end up getting caught and getting seven years in jail. That’s when his life-long engagement with prison began.
What’s really interesting about this film is that it’s based on the life of Michael Gordon Peterson, Britain’s most notorious/dangerous prisoner. I mean literally, he was the craziest inmate on the planet. He solved everything by hitting everything and anyone that came into his path. As soon as they opened the door to his cell, he’d start pounding on whatever cop happened to walk in first! So dangerous is this guy that he has spent almost his whole life (34 years so far!) in solitary confinement. Apart from the rest of the world. Apart from society. You gotta wonder what that kind of life does to a guy, and well, this movie explores that. He gets out of prison, and ends up getting into the world of underground bare knuckles fighting. He changes his name to Charles Bronson, after the actor. Unfortunately, he only lasts 69 days out in the free world before he is sent right back into prison. Apparently Bronson is the kind of guy who enjoys living in prison, he thinks it’s a freaking hotel. So what we get to explore through this film is a character that is one hundred percent anti-social. He can’t stand people, and has never learned to co-exist with others. If he doesn’t like you he’ll beat the living hell out of you. He wants something; he’ll take it from you or steal it. He intimidates you by screaming and hollering orders. I guess the best description for this guy is that he is a major bully.
Bronson is portrayed by Tom Hardy, an actor that has gotten my respect for his portrayal of this character alone. I’ve never seen the real life Bronson, but if he is anything like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of him, the guy is a real character. While watching this movie, I kept asking myself how does a film reach such a dark place; a dark place that rings so genuine and true? I had no idea the film was based on a real life character, but that's what gives the film such a genuinely realistic vibe. You don’t feel like you are watching what some screenwriter thinks its like to be in jail. No, this film feels like the real thing. Part of that reality comes from the fact that Tom Hardy met the real life Michael Gordon Preston. Hardy spoke and corresponded with him before playing the character. So he got to know how this guy really behaves and talks, which of course adds to the faithfulness of the portrayal. My hats down to Tom Hardy for achieving such a genuinely mad performance! Jason Statham was asked to play the role at one point, but thank god he wasn’t able to comply because we wouldn’t have gotten such a good performance as the one we got with Tom Hardy. If there’s something Refn can do, it’s direct the hell out of his actors and get the best performance he can from them, kudos to him for that. Tom Hardy turned in an Oscar worthy performance that needs to be recognized. There was definitely some Bravura in display here.
Speaking of Refn, I applaud him for achieving such a unique film experience in what could have otherwise turned into just another prison film. In an interview he mentions that he wanted to do the polar opposite of what one would expect from a prison movie. This wasn’t a film about a prison break, this was a prison film about a guy who actually wants to stay in prison, a guy who enjoys being in there. He made prison his home. But Refn also managed to turn this movie into a commentary about art. You see, Michael Gordon Peterson is a prisoner with an artistic inclination. At one point in the film his superiors introduce him to the world of artistic expression as a means to reconnect with others. So you get the vibe that Refn is commenting on art, and how artists are always looking for that ultimate form of expression, trying to find the best way to say what they have to say. The film starts with Bronson saying that he always wanted to be famous, but he didn’t know how to sing or dance. So how was he to achieve his fame? Through being the baddest motherfucker to walk the face of the earth that’s how. Weird thing is the guy achieved it even while being in prison most of his life. In this way, Refn comments on the artists desire for recognition, to be noticed and appreciated in the world through their art. I found it extremely interesting how Refn managed to turn a prison movie into a commentary on the experience of trying to find our artistic voice. Even more evidence of the films comments on art is the fact that Bronson sees himself on a stage, in clown make up, talking to an audience who applauds and adores him.
But that artistic angle is only part of the film, because it also dives into A Clockwork Orange (1971) territory, commenting on how the system can make sure you behave if it wants to. How if you don’t live life respecting others, then they are going to make you. Same as Alex DeLarge was forced into submission in A Clockwork Orange, Bronson is put through a similar situation when they place him in a mental institution and drug him until he no longer has control over his actions. Other similarities with A Clockwork Orange include the use of classical music in the films soundtrack. Comparisons with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) have also been drawn. Overall, this is an extremely unique film experience, with an amazing performance from Tom Hardy, pitch perfect direction from Nicolas Winding Refn and a really funny, witty script. Not to be missed!
Rating: 5 out of 5