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It's hard to believe that Tom Hardy and Michael Peterson - alias Charles Bronson - became good friends. Peterson as Hardy portrays him has next to no redeeming features; Britain's most famous prisoner is a psychopath through and through, a man whose ostensible charisma is simply a ploy to justify his irrepressible desire to inflict violence on others. In 'Bronson', Peterson is manipulative but not intelligent; engaging but not likable - a pure but blind force of nature. When he smirks capriciously, there's nothing behind his eyes.
Although 'Bronson' is a biopic, Nicholas Winding Refn consciously channels the spirit of 'A Clockwork Orange', and, telling the story as a stream of consciousness through Peterson's mind, injects it with speed. Surrealism is interwoven and at times blended with the events of Peterson's life, which he narrates both to a passive audience and directly to the viewer. He fancies himself a born performer, and the audience dutifully clap at his skits and gags. This is, after all, Peterson's hour, just as his whole life has been his hour. The key people in his life - his parents, his ex-wife, his child, his lover, his boxing manager, his art teacher - are really just incidental to him, props on the stage. Indeed, it's unclear if some of them even exist as he portrays them.
It's an uncompromising vision of how a psychopath sees the world, the cinematography stark and the soundtrack compulsive. "Nihilistic" and "godless", Peterson feels he can make the world bend to his raw will. But his will has no direction; it's simply manifest of his desire to perform, and his proneness to boredom - and the film implies that this is the reason why his incarceration extended from seven to thirty-four years.
-- Originally published by yours truly on Amazon in September 2012 under the alias 'M. Wenzl'
Bronson is a faux-biographical film made in 2008 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. It is based on Michael Gordon Peterson, more famously known by his fighting name of 'Charles Bronson', the "most violent prisoner in Britain". It stars Tom Hardy, known for his roles in Inception, Black Hawk Down, Warrior, RocknRolla and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The idea of the film is quite obviously based on the life of the infamous and aggressive Charles Bronson, who despite being raised in relative prosperity was arrested and sentenced to 7 years in prison for robbing a post office in 1974. While in prison, he began making a name for himself, as explained in the film through the fact that he cannot sing, he cannot act, and so he shows the calling he found, which is simply to fight. Scenes demonstrate his youth spent bare-knuckle fighting in the East End of London where his persona was created when his fight promoter thought his name not nearly impressive enough. Like Bronson himself, much of the film takes place in prison, as he has endured most of his adult life behind bars, mostly in solitary confinement, on account of his 'loose-cannon' attitude and aggressive nature. One such example of this, shown in the film also, is when Bronson holds his art teacher hostage, ties him to a pole, puts an apple in his mouth, and paints the hostage's face.
The film blurs the lines between fact and fiction, with real newsreels from his 1983 hostage incident which lasted for 47-hour on the rooftop of Broadmoor prison, causing £750,000 of damage. Much of the dramatic scenes in the film are a little exaggerated, but myself knowing much of the incidents of the 'real' Charles Bronson's life, it is hard to distinguish the insane, and acts that are so insane only a madman like Bronson would do. It parodies Bronson's life by presenting many different points in his life, separated with scenes of Bronson dramatically stood on stage before an audience in several stages of performance make-up, and speaking directly to camera. This is an interesting take on Bronson's self proclaimed mission for celebrity through violence.
There are frequent bursts of violence where Bronson becomes so overwhelmed with anger he acts entirely frenzied and almost barbaric. Hardy is excellent in his role, conveying the actions of a truly infamous man in a way that does it justice, without going over the top. It would've been easy to just portray the violence and anger of Bronson, but instead Winding Refn excellently shows another side to him as well. Instead of a man mad with aggression, he is much more similar to modern day fame hungry reality TV stars, who instead of creating a name for themselves with something of worth, they would rather be known for anything. For Bronson, that is to be one of Britain's most famous prisoners, even at the expense of his own freedom.
The transformation of Hardy is genuinely shocking, as he really bulks up to portray a kind of stereotypical Victorian strong man, matched with a bold moustache to suit. Seeing as how 28 of Bronson's 34 years behind bars were spent in solitary confinement, it is difficult to believe the film was even able to create a dynamic and interesting narrative, and yet it really does, in a very intriguing way. It very easily could have become tedious, or perhaps a little too pretentious in its attempt to show the 'human' side of Bronson in a clever and entertaining way that keeps you engaged for its entire 92 minutes.