Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Starring Tom Hardy, Kelly Adams, Matt King, James Lance, Amanda Burton and Jonathan Phillips.
An artistic biopic of Michael Peterson, a.k.a. Charles Bronson, the man who was sentenced to 7 years in prison for robbing a Post Office, but over 30 years on remains behind bars for his violent behaviour.
Despite being placed under the umbrella of ‘biopic’, it is clear that Bronson is in fact Nicolas Winding Refn’s interpretation – focusing not on being completely factually accurate, but instead concentrating on a man’s desire to be known, to be famous. Back in the 70s when the film is set; you couldn’t just file in a Big Brother audition tape to get yourself known. No, Charles Bronson felt the best way to become famous was to cause chaos. By attacking prison guards and taking hostages, Charles Bronson is highly feared, and even just a tiny ounce of respect should be owed to him for being so determined to build such a reputation.
Back to the film itself, there’s a certain detachment from reality with some cuts in between sections of the film where Bronson, played by the excellent Tom Hardy, addresses an audience onstage, often with mime-style make-up, and here is where Hardy is at his best. Performing so theatrically in a way that is utterly convincing but also utterly mad, these sections of the film are particularly interesting, as the audience in the theatre are essentially fans of Charles Bronson, loyal followers who clap and laugh as needed, but once ol’ Charles’ voice is raised, they snap back to silence with adoration and awe.
As a fan of Tom Hardy, having first discovered him in Martina Cole TV drama, The Take, I was so impressed by his performance in Bronson, that it came as no surprise that he had in fact met the man on several occasions. I have huge respect for actors who do their utmost to understand a character, and although it is difficult to know what the real Charles Bronson is like, I’m pretty convinced that Tom Hardy had a damn good idea. His performance is phenomenal and terrifying, and although most of the film concentrates on Bronson as basically a lunatic, when the softer and more awkward side of him comes to fruition, it is utterly believable and gives real dimension to a character that most would assume has only one dimension – a violent one.
The order of the film does not always appear to be chronological. There is a small confusion when Bronson’s manager (played by Matt King) comes to the decision that his client should refer to himself as Charles Bronson, as opposed to his birth name Michael Peterson, however he has in fact already referred to himself as Charles Bronson earlier in the film. Other than that though, there is little to say in terms of flaws in this film. The orchestral and often operatic soundtrack is fantastic, and truly contrasts the violence of what we see. The whole film is artful, and some may say it is a drawback – but dig beneath the arty graphics that at one point dance across the screen, and dig beneath some of the directorial decisions, and you’ll find a film that is a little bit ‘in your face’ (Hardy’s cursing is as loud and threatening as if he was there with you on the sofa), but very engaging and a profoundly interesting example of one man’s will power and drive to become known in a time where celebrity was actually less important than today.
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