johnlink ranks BRONSON (2008)

I know quite a few people who swear by this movie. The sub-genre of gritty prison fare isn’t always my go-to choice for film, but when it is done well it can be done very well. Tom Hardy is a heck of an actor, from what little I’ve seen, so I was also interested in seeing him featured like this. I should also note that I had no idea who Charlie Bronson was before seeing this movie. I thought it was odd that he shared a name with the DEATH WISH actor, so I was glad that got explained. But this was not a film I came to with any kind of predisposition regarding what it was going to be.

I watched BRONSON (2008) on 9.25.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Charlie Bronson (Hardy) was born Michael Peterson. He didn’t receive the more famous name until long-after he had established his shtick. Bronson was a petty criminal who became an absolutely uncontrollable prisoner. He prided himself on being violent and aggressive, fighting inmates and guards alike at the slightest provocation. Now in his 60s (and still a prisoner in England), Bronson achieved his dream of being famous, both by long-ago being named England’s most violent prisoner, and also by the very creation of this film.

BRONSON, the movie, is an extremely forgiving and subjective look at its subject. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (who did a great job directing DRIVE), this is a movie with a point of view about Bronson as a man.

We start the film in Bronson’s head, seemingly. He tells us he wants to be famous by any means necessary. He addresses a dreamlike audience, straight out of a Lynch film. The film continually returns to this viewpoint, with Hardy filling the screen addressing this enthralled crowd. We, by extension, become part of this crowd. And more importantly we, by the nature of narrative, only get to hear what the movie wants to tell us.

This movie loves Bronson. It forgives his violence and prides itself on celebrating his aggressiveness. To wit, we see the violence enacted against masked guards, armed police, and bad criminals. We rarely see him target an ‘innocent’ person (I’m arguing that the guards are their to beat him, so he is fighting those expecting violence in those scenarios). Towards the end of the film he begins to use people, to hold hostages, as a way of getting the warden to pay attention to him. But the film loves Bronson way too much to ever think he will truly be a danger to these people. For such a brutal movie, the heart of this movie really is tame.

In researching the man after seeing the film I noticed that the movie didn’t address things like Bronson attacking a man for making a homosexual advance. It didn’t address a marriage he had at the beginning of the 21st century which led him to again change his name and to adopt Islam for several years before renouncing it. It shows him fight dogs, but does not show him (or talk about) him killing them. For all the outward attempts to appear controversial, this is a movie which seemed to want to shy away from the most controversial aspects of its subject.

While I fully respect the look and tone of this movie, I also think it pulls more punches than it throws. None of this, however, can deny the power of Hardy in the role. In the beginning of the film he is amazingly stoic, and sometimes the idea of good acting is a direct result of the power of editing (since he doesn’t do anything in some of these moments). But as the movie progresses, we really see a fully fleshed-out character, and a powerfully emotional performance in a portrayal of a man who is emotionally guarded. It is also easy to see how this film directly led to Hardy being given the part of Bane in the last DARK KNIGHT film: the connection between the two is tangible.

While I didn’t enjoy this film quite as much as some others, I certainly respect its voice. I just think that a much more interesting film was in there if the movie wasn’t so concerned with protecting its subject’s likability. By making the entire film come from his perspective we never once find ourselves on the side of the victim. Because he’s not exactly a killer, this doesn’t make this a dangerous or even an immoral film, but it certainly is guilty of trying to win us over rather than confront us with honesty.

I’d certainly watch this again. I loved Hardy’s performance, and really liked the way this movie unfolded. But I can’t help but think there could have been more.






~ by johnlink00 on September 26, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks BRONSON (2008)”

  1. Nice review. I totally agree that the film paints a slightly more sympathetic view of Bronson than perhaps it should. They seem to push for the whole misunderstood rather than psychotic side of things. It’s a decent film, but Hardy’s acting propels it to something better than it could have been.

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