Looking for something to watch on Netflix but can't make up your mind on what crappy title to subject yourself to? No worries, as I've started a series of posts to suggest some decent movies in a sea of mediocrity. This week we have director Nicolas Winding Refn's violent, gritty take on Britain's most notorious prisoner, Charlie Bronson, which is simply titled, Bronson.
No the movie is not about the Death Wish actor, Charles Bronson, but about a prisoner who took his name to add some pizzazz to his "performances". Performances here meaning brutal prison and underground fights. Bronson tells the story of Michael Peterson aka Charlie Bronson, the most famous prisoner in Britain's recent history. The film chronicles Bronson's life as he robs a bank and is sentenced to 7 years in prison. That 7 year stint however turns into an eternity as the criminal gets into continuous fights with authoritative figures and other prisoners. Bronson ends up spending the majority of his life in prison, becoming a creative and influential cultural icon in the process.
Refn, who is also responsible for the movie Drive, is certainly a director who has his own flare and style, and here it definitely shows. A lot of critics would compare his efforts here with that of Kubrick, and while the director certainly borrows a certain gravitas from the Clockwork Orange director, he nonetheless retains a way of filming and capturing moments all his own. The film moves around Bronson's life, usually not in chronological order, relentlessly showing moments of unprovoked violence. Why Bronson fights and has such a passion for rage we do not know, and neither does Bronson. Refn doesn't take a firm stance on what made Bronson the psychopath he is, rather letting the movie move from one scene to the next to the let the viewer interpret it how they may. At times it may feel disjointed or sporadic, but each scene is a small moment which allows us to view Bronson's life as it unfolds.
Refn's direction is good, but what elevates the movie to new heights is Tom Hardy's animalistic performance as the prisoner madman. Hardy has proven to be one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, ranging from indie flicks like Locke to blockbusters like Inception, but his performance in this movie is still his crowing achievement. Hardy tackles the role with such rage and instability you'd think you were watching the real life criminal himself.
The movie manages to be somewhat brutally violent and poetic in another sense. There are several shots which can only be explained as existing in Charlie Bronson's mind. He stands in front of an audience and explains his passions and viewpoints through his commanding voice. One instance you can write Bronson off as a dangerous psychopath, and then one minute later you're feeling sorry for the bloke. Bronson can take a guard hostage and beat several guards, and a scene later he could be painting a picture of flowers. His psyche was obviously one that was in constant turmoil and Hardy and Refn are able to capture that mindset.
Bronson is far from a perfect movie. Like I mentioned before it can certainly feel disjointed, and it is definitely different than most mainstream Hollywood movies. But isn't that what cinema is all about? Taking risks; creating something new and innovative. Hell we wouldn't have all the classics that we do without someone taking risks. And that's what Refn and Hardy do here, they take risks.
Opening Scene (One of the best in recent cinema)
Recommended if you like A Clockwork Orange, Drive, Locke
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