Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn. UK, 2008. 92 mins.
With Bronson, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (the Pusher trilogy) takes his first director-for-hire job and makes an indelible stamp on it. Bronson is about the UK’s most violent prisoner, Charles Bronson, born Michael Peterson, but it’s in no way a biography. This is Refn’s nihilistic tribute to Kubrick and A Clockwork Orange; a hyper-violent showcase with strong theatrical elements scored elliptically to classical music and classic pop tunes. It is propelled by a muscular - literally - performance from an almost-unrecognisable Tom Hardy, compellingly if repellently watchable in the title role.
Commercially, this will live at the fringes: a violent, often funny cabaret which doesn’t really aim to illuminate, it will find buyers but will have a tough trek out of hard-core art house internationally due to its subject matter. Refn’s framing can’t help but attract: he presents Bronson as a jester on the stage, a showman, a face-painted, elaborately-moustachioed philosopher whose ambition was only ever to be famous. That, coupled with Hardy’s show-stopping performance, will draw select audiences to the film. Ratings could be an issue. While Bronson contains no elements of sexual violence, there is always a possibility that it will court controversy in the UK, where Bronson is tabloid fodder, and be adopted by the same right-wing elements that embraced A Clockwork Orange.
Jailed in 1974, when he was 19, for a robbery, Bronson’s prison term has been repeatedly extended due to attacks on prison staff and hostage-taking situations, not to mention his famous rooftop protests, and he has only spent four-odd months out of prison in last 34 years, 30 of them spent in solitary confinement. Physically, he maintains a regimen which keeps him in a shape similar to Hardy’s, and he currently writes poetry and paints. Refn presents him as a man who found his natural habitat behind prison bars; whose bare-knuckle violence and animalistic physicality resulted in the fame he had long sought.
Refn tells the story episodically, with a loose narrative timeline, interspersed with Bronson as a MC on stage. Visually, Bronson is a stagy, theatrical, claustrophobic affair, set inside darkened, spotlit prison cells with memorable spashes of colour and an intense focus on Hardy’s face.
+ 44 (0)207 306 5155
Brock Norman Brock
Nicolas Winding Refn