(The NY premiere of Bronson took place as part of the BAMcinemaFEST in Brooklyn. It opens in October.)
Directed by Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (The Pusher Trilogy, Fear X) Bronson tells the story of Michael Peterson, Britain's most notorious prisoner. After a botched robbery at the tender age of 22, Peterson was sentenced to 7 years in jail. His life then became a whirlwind of fisticuffs, hostage taking and prison transfers. Fast forward 35 years and Peterson has been incarcerated for most of his life, spending the majority of that time in solitary confinement. Somewhere along the way, he became a larger than life character by the name of Charles Bronson.
Tom Hardy, whose performance is a manic tour de-fucking-force, plays the cinematic version of Bronson. He spends a good portion of the film bare-ass naked, giving Viggo Mortensen a run for his money in the nude fighting department. It is a star-making role, equal parts charisma and psychosis. Like the character Alex in A Clockwork Orange, Bronson is witty and likable, but also extremely violent.
And the Clockwork Orange comparisons don't stop there. Almost every review I've read has name-dropped Kubrick, and I can see why. You've got the duality of the protagonist; the comedic tone of the violence, the classical score, and the gritty yet stylized nature of the film. But despite these similarities, Bronson stands on its own two legs. And those legs are attached to a naked man covered in bootblack, with a mustache like a circus strongman.
Bronson has been criticized as lacking a strong narrative, but this is due in part to the source material. The film does an excellent job of distilling the repetitive, almost episodic nature of the book into something much more concise. Bronson the film is as much a traditional biopic as the book is a traditional autobiography. Instead of a three-act structure, the film is presented as more of a collage, narrated by Bronson with a Fosse inspired theatricality. Embellishments like this aside, it stays quite true to the man's life, or at least his version of it. How much of Bronson's own story is embellished is hard to say.
My only complaint would be the lack of insight into the man himself. In the book, Bronson gives us a window into his mental state, describing his efforts to control his temper and gain his freedom. He even goes so far as to consider that he may be mentally ill. The film, however, attributes Bronson's actions to a drive for celebrity, which may not be incorrect, but comes from a more creative interpretation of the book's subtext. I wonder if this would have been an issue for me if I had not read the book.
Either way, Bronson is incredibly entertaining, full of laugh out loud moments and arresting visual panache. Refn's film deserves to be seen, and cineastes looking for something bold and original should definitely seek it out come October.