Movie Review: "Bronson" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2009
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written By: Brock Norman Brock, Nicolas Winding Refn
Actors: Tom Hardy, Kelly Adams, Luing Andrews
Rated: R
Run Time: 92 min

In lieu of Tom Hardy's successes in this weekend's "The Dark Knight Rises", I decided to finally sit down and watch Nicolas Winding Refn's 2009 British hit, "Bronson".

The film stars Tom Hardy as real life Charlie Bronson (Michael Peterson, if you want his given name), who, much to his desires, became something of a celebrity in Britain in the 1970's and decades to follow. Peterson was raises in a normal and happy household, never considered by any to be a violent child. As the film points out, he got in his share of childish trouble, but nothing unlike anyone else his age. As he grew up, and felt the routines of society, he wanted something more; Peterson had an unbreakable yearning for fame, however it might find him. As a 19-year old, he decided to try and make a name for himself by robbing a local post office. He left the building with less than $30 in his hands, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Once there, his selected fighting name and celebrity personality, Charlie Bronson, broke through and helped him reach the heights he strove for. It might not have been what he planned, but once in prison, Charlie realized he had an affinity for fighting; he could take a hit and dole plenty more out. And using these skills on prison guards gained Bronson the celebrity status he'd been craving, even if it was just amongst the prison circuits. As he continued to fight, his sentence quickly turned into 34 years, with more than 30 of them in solitary confinement. All for a failed robbery attempt at a post office.

Tom Hardy is really the only notable actor in this film (at least to most of us here in America), but boy does he shine. I've enjoyed him in the others movies I've seen him in - "The Dark Knight Rises", "Warrior", "Inception", etc., but it was a real treat seeing him so animated for once. Generally, I feel like Hardy usually plays characters more reserved than his role here. I wouldn't say this character was charismatic, but it had a huge personality, a sick sense of humor, and loved any and all attention that anyone would give him. So it was just really fun to see Hardy act out so much. He does a fantastic job too, I think, balancing these very uneven emotions, living in the mind of a man that truly is hard to relate to. I loved taking in this character, whatever he was up to. Even if he was doing wrong, seeing his thought processes and overall mindset was so intriguing.

I really enjoyed the story that was told. I wasn't familiar with this man before, so this was an interesting story to me. On the surface, we see a man so obsessed with celebrity that he doesn't notice anything else going on around him. When he learns he can fight and that people inside the system get to know him because of doing so, he never stops. He makes a point in the film to say that he never killed anyone, nor did he ever want to. In all honesty, as good a fighter as Bronson was, he never attacked anyone with true anger - he fought because that was his niche; he knew that doing so kept him in the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to. We see Bronson moved from prison to prison throughout the film (he was moved more than 120 times over his 34 years), embracing each new opportunity he got. As he even mentions, each new cell was like a hotel room to him; he looked forward to the next destination. During the calmer moments of the film, we get to see that Bronson is actually a very simple man, someone hardly considered a criminal other than for his persistence and lack of guidance. It's a blind obsession for celebrity that pushes him, and unfortunately he just happened to find something negative to gain that before anything positive happened to him. At one point, when the Queen and Britain refers to Charlie Bronson as the "most violent prisoner in Britain", you can tell the sense of excitement and accomplishment that he feels. He didn't care where it came from, he just wanted fame. Anyway, because of all this, and his generally complacent attitude, we are able to root for a man who spent the majority of his adult life behind bars for beating up guards, policemen, and other prisoners. Or, maybe root isn't the right word. You appreciate his determination though, and maybe just fee so bad for the direction that his life took that it's impossible to truly dislike the guy.

Winding Refn's presence can be felt from a mile away in this film. If you've seen "Drive", then you'll know that these films were directed by the same man. He again uses very similar synthesizer 70s-inspired tones to move the movie and its music. It's odd that his musical selections feel very 1970's in both films, but felt more out of place in a movie that took place in the 1970's than with his latest film, "Drive". It was still very unique and interesting, and I'm not saying I disliked it, there were just a few scenes that played awkwardly to me. But I also feel comfortable assuming that Winding Refn wanted us to feel a little uncomfortable with this story. Bronson as a man was awkward; a man that wasn't truly violent but that was famous for fighting. Winding Refn matches Bronson's personality with the tones of the film, while showcasing the violence that helped him achieve his status. It's almost a contradiction. It was a great take on the story though, and one that I think Winding Refn showcased quite well. I think that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg from this director.

Overall, the film is a bit stylized, and even for a movie about a man becoming famous for fighting, there really isn't a lot of violence. There are a few bloody scenes, but mostly it's never anything more than punches being exchanged. It all looks very real though, so I think the quality of what is shown is quite good. The film tries to focus much more so on the man than the fighting, and to give you an idea of what someone like this was actually like. Hardy's personality as Charlie Bronson keeps the film's watchability levels as high as they are, and truly is the gem of the whole picture. It's an interesting look at how fame and celebrity can be interpreted in today's culture, and one extreme example of what people will do for a taste of it. It probably says more about our society than I spoke about or personally pulled from the film, but I think there's definitely something to be said for Peterson wanting this status no matter how he had to get there.

Otherwise, it is a British biopic, so don't expect standard Hollywood fare. It's probably not as exciting of a movie as you'd think from reading this, but it is a good one, nonetheless. And Hardy's performance makes it quite easy to get though. It's intriguing and a film that I think is worth a watch at least once.