Saturday, 5 September 2009


Title: Bronson
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Released: 2009
Staring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Hugh Ross, James Lance
Rating: 3 / 5
Plot: Britain’s most notorious Prisoner Charles Bronson (Hardy), who was born Michael Peterson and created his alter ego Charles Bronson, after being sent to prison for a failed Post Office robbery. Originally sentenced to seven years, he has been behind bars for 34 years, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement.

Review: It’s not too often that the British film industry manages to catch me off guard, by producing something so surprising and fascinating to watch, that I’m left in slight disbelief that we actually managed to create something worth wasting a few hours away with, which isn’t a bond movie!
True this jaded attitude is probably down to realising how behind the times anything the BBC creates is as well as the fact, that the British film industry in recent years has concentrated largly on costume drama’s which help reinforce the idea, that a large percentage of the rest of the world population have about the Brits, that we are all a bunch of well spoken, tea sipping aristocrats and that life is generally quite similar to a Jane Austin novel, which is quite an unfair stereotype really (well outside of the tea sipping part). The other side of the British film industry of course largely consists of those horrible crime dramas, such as “The Crew” (2008) and “Kidulthood” (2006) where it seems everyone is trying to imitate Guy Richie with supposedly quotable dialogue and everyone trying to cram in as many swear words per sentence as humanly possible, as they try to hold tough guy persona's which is weird when you consider that Guy Richie has only really made two good films with “Revolver” (2005) being the third at a push, though for fans of that film like myself, they do find it’s a very lonely club. I could gripe some more about how Noel Clarke has heavily contributed to this decline, but that would detract from this film which really is the shiny penny in the pile of crap, which has become the British film industry and which like Danny Boyle and “Film4 Productions” has given me hope yet for British film making.

Nicolas Winding Refn is surprising to hail as one of the savours of British film making especially, seeing how he is Danish, yet while watching “Bronson” I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a British film, as he has captured not only the subject character perfectly, but also the most simplest of interactions between characters, without none of the usual over characterisation to represent the British public, as the performances throughout all seem very natural and without any of the cringe worthy characterisation that seems to constantly plague more recent English films, almost as if the director doesn’t believe that the audience will buy into the idea, unless the characters are reduced down to were they are almost caricatures, of what the English are supposed to represent and something which is thankfully not present here. In fact this is were I found the first of many surprises to be, especially seeing the source material this film, could easily have just been made as the usual hard man prison drama, with characters spewing out the words “Slag” and “Cunt” every five seconds, along with a number of other colourful phrases, but none of that is to be found here, as Refn instead chooses to take a more surreal approach, with the character of Bronson appearing on stage in a suit, while addressing an equally smartly dressed audience, with the story of his life and how he came to be the man he is, from a hot headed 19 year old in 1974 to his current status, as one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners. It’s certainly a unique way of presenting the story and feels almost as if Refn is trying to reinforce the fact that, while being incarcerated that Bronson has become almost like a character in a play, as the film switches between these monologues and the main action of the film which is again laced with irony ridden narration, bringing to mind the character of Alex in Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), while also throwing in a scene, where while talking about his time at Broad Moor prison, introduces TV Footage of the real Bronson, shot during the riots which he helped spark during one of his numerous escape attempts, which led to Bronson receiving the title of “Britain’s most expensive prisoner”. All of these helping the film to rise about just being another Biopic, as at times it feels almost surreal including a conversation between Bronson and one his Psychologists, which has Hardy turning from side to side as he plays each of the two characters, with one side his face made up to appear femine, reminding me heavily of a deleted scene from the X files episode “Humbug” in which Mulder and Scully are served by a hermaphrodite waiter. It certainly is none the less surreal when used quite effectively here and it was moments like this which really surprising me with this film, not only because time had been taken to make this, more than just a straightforward biopic, but also because I didn’t think that Refn as a director would use such methods of storytelling, especially after watching his brutal “Pusher Trilogy” which certainly lacked any of subtly that he uses here, but it is during these moments that it really drives home the idea, that your not just watching another crime Biopic, but rather receiving an introduction to the Psyche of Bronson, a world were he openly admits that he does the things he does because he wants to and not because of some early childhood event, which would shape him into the man he becomes, infact it’s this idea that he is a creation of his own self, that is reinforced within the opening monologue, when he praises his parents for giving him such a happy childhood and that it was solely the belief that he was meant for bigger things, which lead to his first robbery. True it might seem that Refn only cares about the violence which made the man, rather than his later reform, with the film ending after holding his art teacher hostage, before receiving a brutal beat down at the hands of the prison officers, but these are the stories which most people associate with the man and seeing how the film, was released with a supposed audio introduction from the real Bronson in which he states

"I'm proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on. I make no bones about it, I really was... a horrible, violent, nasty man. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed of it either... See you at the Oscars."

This statement also makes it feel as if Refn is not wanting the audience to show sympathy for the character by showing reform, which could make the audience forget about what they have witness before. Instead he prefers to sledgehammer the audience with a bombardment of violence and graphic image and here it is used to devastating effect.
Tom Hardy's performance is a force of nature in this film, as he embodies the character of Bronson to the point were you never feel, as if your watching him playing Hardy, but rather watching Bronson himself, carrying out the variety of brutal beatings, as he hurls an almost constant stream of abuse, at anyone who stands in his way. It is also a credit to Hardy’s attention to character detail, which only add to the believability of the performance, with Hardy gaining 3 stone of muscle in order to play the character, while researching Bronson extensively and its safe to say that it’s work which pays off. Equally enjoyable to watch is the performance by Matt King as Paul, who upon Bronson’s first (and shortlived) release from prison become his manager of sorts, setting him up to fight in bare knuckle brawls, while also helping him to create his alter ego. King’s sporadic appearances also provide many of the pitch black moments of humour, with one particular stand out moment for this humour coming after Bronson first fight as he calmly hands an irate Bronson, by responding with

“Magic? You just pissed on a gypsy in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

In a voice which verges on being almost comically camp, but never slipping into parody which is always a risk, which is run whenever a camp character is introduced to any story, usually to irritance of the viewer, which thankfully is not the case here.
Soundtrack wise the score is mainly orchestral, helping to add to the mood of scenes, with only on a couple of occastions, breaking away from this score to throw in an 80's synth classic with the most prominant being "It's a Sin" by The Pet Shop Boys, a song which I've always loved and here it is used to great effect.

For a film that could easily have just been another dumbed down crime biopic, Refn has instead created not only a unique vision which on occastion verges on arthouse, but also a definitive look at the notorious prisoner, while creating a film with a vein of dark humour running throughout, which takes the time to not only look at what made the man, but also at the intoxicating and dangerous allure of violence.

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