The world is filled with bizarre characters, but I don’t think any of them are more bizarre than Charles Bronson, the man who has been dubbed “England’s most famous prisoner” – and when I say bizarre, I mean he is outright terrifying (and quite frankly, I am terrified to even be writing this review, because Bronson is probably one of the most intimidating and scary men to ever live). However, his story is absolutely fascinating, and he is a man whose life was made for the history books. He also happens to be the subject of a brilliant film that shows his life in prison, and his brief intermission between his lengthy stays in various prisons and mental hospitals.
The problem with many films about criminals, and life in prison, is that they always inevitably steer into some sort of criticism of society, where the prisoner, regardless of who, is seen sometimes as being a victim of circumstance, whether being raised in an abusive family, being bullied or just being a social reject at large. Bronson does not do this, not at all. To be perfectly clear, this film doesn’t present Charles Bronson (or his birth-name, Michael Gordon Peterson) as anything other than a completely insane and deranged individual that found himself in prison only because of his loose-cannon personality. As Bronson himself says in this film, he had a good family life, went to a good school and had everything he could possibly want to be an upstanding member of society – he just chose not to be, and even after being released after seven years in prison, he still makes sure to break the law, even if it is completely unnecessary. Charles Bronson has good reason to be a notorious criminal, because quite frankly he isn’t anything like any other prisoner we’ve seen. He’s an anomaly, and that is precisely what makes his life perfect for such a gritty and violent exploitation film.
When we are talking great actors that can play absolutely crazy tough guys, we have to look to Tom Hardy. He’s had a meteoric rise to fame over the past few years and his performances in many great films over the past few years – but back when Bronson was made, he wasn’t nearly as much of a household name as he is now. His casting, in retrospect, is absolutely genius, because Hardy has proven his ability to play dramatic roles, but also to absolutely commit to physically grueling roles. His transformation into Charles Bronson was absolutely uncanny, and it was only made much more intense by the fact that Hardy played the character with such intense velocity and ferocious humour. The fact that Hardy rose to fame without his best performance being seen by many is very strange, but I have no doubt that those who don’t believe in Hardy’s abilities as an actor are certainly going to eat their words after seeing his masterful performance in Bronson. Dark, brilliant and utterly terrifying, Hardy commits to this role in a way very few actors do – and the fact that he gave such a risky performance without the benefit of being a household name is truly indicative of the fact that we should respect and adore Tom Hardy, and I fully support his rise to fame, and only hope that he will continue to grow as an actor, because he is genuinely a fantastic actor.
Bronson is an utterly bizarre film, equally as strange as is subject matter. Nicolas Winding Refn is a great, if not completely unconventional, director. I may have issues with his recent films, but it is impossible to deny that he is a brilliant auteur, and prior to Drive, he was making utterly fantastic films that were as diverse as they were extraordinary. Many might consider Drive to be his masterpiece, and as great as that film is, I think it is Bronson that shows the true extent of what Nicolas Winding Refn is capable of doing. He manages to make a crime thriller that is a blend of nearly every genre – gangster drama, dark comedy and even horror. Refn is completely unflinching in showing the truly awe-inspiring violence and path of destruction that Charles Bronson wrought on those who were unlucky enough to encounter him. I categorize this in the often disregarded sub-genre of exploitation, because the sheer amount of violence and gore in this film, along with its unique look at its subject matter, reminds me of the video nasties of years past, and the violence is just extraordinary. I do warn you – this is not a film for the faint of heart. If you are not willing to see complete anarchy and destruction, and a ton of blood, then perhaps this film isn’t for you. But if you are brave enough, it is an utterly wonderful and unforgettable piece of cinema.
Refn takes such a unique method of telling this story, and as I mentioned, it doesn’t fit into any genre. It also breaks many conventions of cinema as a whole. The entire film is presented as Charles Bronson’s re-telling of his life, and the most memorable moments of the film are presented as Hardy playing Bronson in an elaborate one-man show, with makeup and costumes to boot. It becomes almost terrifying to see how remorseful Bronson actually is (and according to my research, the sentiments expressed in the film were Bronson’s exact views). It just makes it all the more terrifying and weirdly fascinating. Hardy is extraordinary at showing a man who is equal parts lethal as he is endearing – and while I never want to encounter Charles Bronson in real life, I am captivated by his story.
Bronson is one of the most unique and strange films I have ever seen. It represents a great moment for the careers of its talented director and brilliant lead actor, and everything about it is just wonderful. It is very violent and gory, but also wonderfully made and the story is just on a completely different level. I know this film will make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and angry, and that is exactly the point. I dare anyone to watch this film – some will despise it, others will adore it. But no one will ever forget it.