Saturday, August 15, 2009

Film review: Bronson

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Kelly Adams
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2009

“My name’s Charles Bronson and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous,” comes the narration from the anti-hero of director Nicholas Winding Refn Sydney Film Festival Official Comp winner. Bronson is a film that offers perilously little else than a character portrait of Britain’s most infamous inmate played by Tom Hardy. And for those who value story over art that probably won't be enough, nevertheless Bronson has ‘cult classic’ written all over it thanks to it’s coiled tension and eventual balls-to-the-wall violence.

Refn, whose Pusher trilogy is another revered collection from the cult section, paints his portrait of a fascinating man with a Kubrickian brush, unapologetically repetitive in its explorations of a life behind bars and man incapable of, or uninterested in, rehabilitation into normal society. A squat fist of muscle with a shaved head and an English moustache, Refn’s Bronson is an intelligent, creative and at times vulnerable man who is nothing if not intensely wild, whimsical and interesting. His world becomes a bizarre vaudevillian affair beset by equally odd characters along the way from a prize-fight promoter, to an art teacher, to a particularly peculiar prison warden.

It all comes as a surprise to anyone from British shores more accustomed to the man born Michael Gordon Peterson whom after being imprisoned for armed robbery became known as the country’s most dangerous criminal, remaining in jail for 40 years (aside a couple of very short stints of freedom) as a result of crimes committed inside. One of the strengths of Bronson is director Refn decision to tell his story through the a tint lens of absurdity and leave the audience to work out how they feel about the ruffian for themselves.

Whilst no doubt capturing his charm, humour and raising questions about the rights and wrongs of institutionalising a man through years of solitary confinement, the filmmaker is never shies away from the brutality of this somewhat deranged and feral character who cannot be defined by normal society. Was he born this way or did prison and society’s limitations of social-acceptability shape him into the man he became?

Bronson is a deeply confronting film in respect of it subject and no matter what your opinion of its value the one feature uniformly agreeable is the stunning central performance by Hardy as the brawler. Previously only seen in bit parts in the likes of Layer Cake, Marie Antoinette and RocknRolla Hardy delivers a text book definition of a tour de force that is both mesmerising and terrifying and a performance that deserves to be talked about in the same vein of Eric Bana’s similar role in Chopper – utterly magnificent.

For 92 minutes Bronson sets out to entertain us with visual flair and a reek of madness. In the process it succeeds in becoming one of the most original and exciting biopics in recent memory and a scary insight into what may lie beneath humanity: little more than survival of the fittest instincts that betray our animalistic tendencies. Or it might just be a wild ride in the mind of a madman.