Wednesday, 28 July 2010

BRONSON (2009) - 3 1/2 STARS

"I want the jury at my trial to come and see how I'm living. But I'm not living, I'm existing"

Since 1974, Britain's prisons have had to put up with one of their most notorious criminals during those 36 years; his real name is Mickey Peterson, his alter-ego is Charlie Bronson (hence the film's title). The film is a true-life account of the journey into aggression that Bronson (Tom Hardy) goes through from when he was first put away in prison in the 70s for robbing a post office to the many brutal fights he incurred with prison guards and inmates and although he was briefly released back into society, he would make a swift return inside. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn delivers a gritty and arty film focusing on the events that made Bronson become feared across the country by its own government and the justice system but the brutalization of prison life adds to the harshness of what he has to go through (a plot that familiarises with Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)). Nevertheless what Bronson's motives are throughout the film are taken into question as to why he did what he did e.g. damaging his chances of escaping prison. We learn about his younger years being brought up by doting parents only to get involved with the wrong people before having his own family led to what he had to do in order to survive the tough times during 1970's Britain. Chaos though was his main objective during that time which saw him transferred to many prisons across the country but not being swayed by the toughness of the places even stating they are 'worth a visit'.

British actor Tom Hardy, who is slowly developing himself as a strong actor who can conquer both sides of the Atlantic, is brilliantly cast as the disturbed sociopath who takes great pride in complicating his reputation and trying to stamp that reputation amongst those around him. He is a complicated and psychotic character, as shown from the start where his first of many naked fights with prison guards shows that he believes he can take on the world, this further told through his dream sequences of expressing his enjoyment of prison life to an audience, as if he is the entertainer. The physical energy displayed by Hardy shows how hard the character must have been to play but he manages to keep the audience on edge with his lengthy stares and his calm but threatening attitude towards certain characters especially the guards. The many confrontations with prison guards would eventually lead him to be placed in a mental asylum that looks as harsh as the environment Jack Nicholson finds himself in during ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975), and clearly being labelled as mad which was something Bronson didn't want to be known as. He would do anything to avoid suffering with people clearly more disturbed then he was which became a pinnacle in one scene where he attempts to kill a fellow inmate in order to be back in prison. However there is a softer more child-like innocence to Bronson when he is released from prison halfway in the film and attempts to redeem himself by getting romantic with Alison (Juliet Oldfield) only to go to desperate measures in order to win her and ending up back in the place he has called 'home' for over 30 years. Being as it may, Bronson never killed anyone but yet was still fierce in his brutality towards those he did attack but would normally present a more poignant reason for it e.g. the film's climax which involves him taking an art teacher (James Lance) hostage but using him as part of an art project to display his taste in art, beautifully orchestrated by the use of classical music.

As discussed before, director Refn clearly makes the film as a homage to A Clockwork Orange through many devices; Bronson's taste for ultra violence and classical music which is similar to Alex in Kubrick's classic, the inclusion of dark colours in a gritty environment and the law abiding steps Bronson has to take when back in society. The music especially adds to the beauty of the film's hallucinating atmosphere especially in the mental asylum sequences but also modern music including Pet Shop Boys. Technically the film is well shot to add the grim effect of life not just in prison but outside of it as well, the use of shadows to hide Bronson during the stand-up scenes and when bloodied resembles Colonel Kurtz's first scene from APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) to add to the mystery that surrounds his body language and it also gives a claustrophobic feel to how he could cope in such closed down spaces for over three decades. Negatively the film does suffer through simple holes in the story that are not proper focused on such as not focusing on whether Bronson had bothered to see whether his child had actually grown up over the years, the more actual reasons for his re-arrest halfway in the film that was because he wanted to show a more personal reason for being back in society and the unknown support cast which struggles to better Hardy's phenomenal performance that completely overshadows them. However as a storming biopic, it is an impressive first major film for Refn in mainstream terms, technically well made and further boosted by the impulsive role delivered by Tom Hardy that has been rewarded with upcoming Hollywood films including INCEPTION (2010) and MAD MAX (2010). For Bronson himself, Britain's most violent criminal, he himself can be pleased with how the film focused on his harsh environment but presenting himself as the celebrity he wanted to become, but not the one most people would associate with!


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