Friday, 13 March 2009

Bronson - Review

In Britain there are usually two kinds of films, in one corner you have lovely, very English "stiff upper lip" romantic comedies usually written by Richard Curtis and/or Ben Elton ala Four Weddings And A Funeral, Love Actually (guilty pleasure of mine while we're on the subject), Bridget Jones' Diary etc etc. And in the other corner you have slightly tongue and cheek insights into Britain's underworld in the form of such films as Guy Ritchie's Lock Stock..., Snatch, RocknRolla to Shane Meadow's epic This Is England and Dead Man's Shoes. The latest entry falling into the latter category is Bronson, a surreal and stylish biographical tale of, arguably, Britain's most famous living criminal Charles Bronson (aka Michael Gordon Peterson) played by Tom Hardy (only realised this after I posted the review but he's the bad guy in Star Trek Nemesis, fuck he bulked up!!!!?!) and directed by the virtually unknown Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Like many films that fall into this category of British cinema, it is what you would expect, darkly humorous, bleak, gritty and very explicit in its violence and sex. Only out today and it has already sparked slight controversy at the première, when a recording of Bronson's voice was played with no prior permission granted by officers at HM Prison Service, who called for an inquiry into how the recording had been made, but that is a discussion for another website, we're here to talk films!

The film opens up in a strange setting of a theatre, where Bronson talks to the audience about his strange philosophies (this is a recurring theme played throughout the film) , along with his ambitions and a quick introduction into the beginnings of his life which, for a man who had virtually no real prior knowledge to Bronson other than what I saw in old news reel footage, I was quite taken back by how normal a life he appeared to have led prior to going off the rails. Coming from a loving family, and was quiet enough in school to suddenly going mental and beating his teacher with his school desk. From here on we are subjected to many comedic moments of Bronson in his late teens to early 20s where he gets a few jobs and briefly shows the audience a glimpse into his first marriage where he had a son (and strangely that is about all you see of that...), leading up to his first public offence where he was jailed for seven years in 1974 for a bungled armed robbery of a post office, in which he stole £26.18. Unlike other people who might be sent to prison, realising their wrongs and hopefully try to rebuild their lives, Bronson's was only beginning. Hopping from prison to prison Bronson builds his reputation as a complete nutjob (professional term I swear...) holding prison guards hostage, beating other inmates etc.

Unsurprisingly, as the film goes on, Bronson's sanity spirals even more downward. Having not really been in a starring role before, Tom Hardy carries the film beautifully with enough wit and charm that makes it slightly hard to hate the man he is playing, which is completely comparable to Eric Bana's amazing performance as Chopper in the film of the same name. With an OTT flamboyance and electrifying energy, you would nearly be forgiven for thinking Hardy's take on Bronson was something out of a comic book (strangely he gives the audience some really Joker-esque moments), and frankly I wouldn't bet against him in a fight with Batman. In terms of supporting roles, I was so delighted to see Matt King (for those who are going "who!?", he plays Super Hans in Peep Show) playing the trusted camp friend of Bronson, Paul Daniels, practically stealing the show any time he appeared on screen. Refn also does a terrific job in the director's chair of capturing the run down bleak settings of broken 70s and 80s Britain, from prisons, to insane asylums all the way to the shitty council flats which you see on a weekly basis on TV detective shows like Silent Witness or Waking The Dead. However despite so many positives (and there were many, don't get me wrong) there were unfortunately some uncontrollable pitfalls. One of my main problems with the film was the way it jumped from scene to scene without any real explanation or definite insight into Bronson's past, various events such as his brief bare knuckle boxing career, his two marriages or even his hostage situations weren't really given time to breath or develop, as well as leaving out some pure comedy gold completely such as demanding a getaway helicopter to take him to Cuba, two Uzi sub-machine guns, 5,000 rounds of ammunition and an axe and then claiming afterwards being "as guilty as Hitler". I don't necessarily blame the people who worked on the film, but I'm sure if Bronson had a bigger budget and (not often I say this) had the film been longer we would have been given a much fuller, captivating, biographical tale of the man's life to date. All that aside Bronson is a very brutal British movie about a very brutal British criminal, giving the audience only a glimpse into the psyche of an extremely complex man, and upon leaving the cinema I yearn for more.


See this if you liked...
Chopper, The Firm, This Is England, Dead Man's Shoes.

Bronson is in most cinemas from today.

edit: Thanks Gill for pointing out the typos. Appreciate it :)


gillibean said...

ooooh!!! quick change the mistake!!! you said danny meadows did dean mans shoes and this is england....youre blending 2 british directors!!! SHANE meadows and Danny Boyle!!!

gillibean said...

and at the end you said chopper is in most cinemas today...did you mean bronson is in most cinemas???