Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Movie Review: Bronson

Bronson *** ½
Directed By:
Nicolas Winding Refn.
Written By: Nicolas Winding Refn & Brock Norman Brock.
Starring: Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson), Matt King (Paul), Kelly Adams (Irene), Katy Barker (Julie), Edward Bennett-Coles (Brian), Amanda Burton (Mum), William Darke (Charles Bronson - Age 13), Andrew Forbes (Joe Peterson), James Lance (Phil), Juliet Oldfield (Alison), Hugh Ross (Uncle Jack), Joe Tucker (John White).

I fear that we have become a society of petulant children. You know the kids that act out because they crave attention, and do not care if it’s good attention or bad attention? That’s what we have become. We are surrounded by “celebrities” you I have no idea why they are celebrities. Paris Hilton? Nicole Ritchie? The Kardashians? Jon and Kate? The Octo Mom? Who the hell are these people and why they hell I am supposed to care about them? Do they have talent? Or are they just more willing than the next person to degrade themselves for a little bit of fame?

I know that it is odd to begin a review about the “most violent inmate in Britain” talking about vacuous celebrities, but it was the thought that stuck with me as I was watching Bronson. Born Michael Peterson, the main character in Bronson thinks he is destined for great things, and longs to make a name for himself. As a child, he got into fights, dropped out of school early, got married and had a kid, but never grew up. He gets arrested for a silly armed robbery, and turns his six year sentence into a pretty much a life sentence by his refusal to do anything but beat people up. True, he never did kill anyone, but when you’re constantly fighting in jail, does it really matter? During his brief (62 days) of freedom following years in jail, he changes his name to Charles Bronson. Why? If you cannot be famous being yourself, maybe adopting the fame of someone else will work.

Bronson, the movie, is pretty much a one man show for actor Tom Hardy, who rips into his role with a ferocity and fearlessness that you rarely see in the movies. He is in pretty much every scene in the film, and he commands your attention no matter what he is doing. Often, he imagines himself on a stage, delivering a monologue about his life, dressed up in full face paint to an adoring crowd that isn’t actually there. He’s not delusional, as he knows it is a fantasy, but in his own mind he is much more famous than he is in reality. In prison, he is a legend, everywhere else he is failure. This is why he continually sabotages himself when he gets an opportunity to be released. He doesn’t want out of jail.

The film was co-written and director by Nicolas Winding Refn, and while the film’s visual and aural look and feel definitely owe a debt to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the film is masterfully directed in its own right. Refn borrows Kubrick’s tactic of marrying the violence with classical music, and does so more effectively than anyone since Kubrick did. But the musical cue that sticks with me the most happens during Bronson’s stay at a mental hospital, during a dance where they play The Pet Shop Boys “It’s a Sin”. It’s here where the movie takes on a life of its own, and marries its realism and surrealism together to great effective. It is a haunting scene. Refn’s visual style seems to want to isolate Bronson throughout the movie. Even when not in jail, he is shot either behind bars, or with the darkness on the edge of the screen closing in on him. On stage, he is the pretty much the only thing lit up. These scenes ratchet up the surrealism of the movie, and recall the sad scenes in Scorsese’s brilliant The King of Comedy, where Pupkin practices his standup to an adoring audience of no one.

But the star of the show is Hardy. There are other characters in the movie, but I find it hard to come up with anything to say about them, because Hardy completely dominates every scene, as he is supposed to. Without an actor of his physicality and presence, his alternating charm, humor and scariness, the whole movie would have devolved into an exercise in style and little else. But he makes Bronson into a real person. A sad, pathetic person, true, but a person nonetheless. All he wants to do is cling to the little bit of “fame” that he has. If he wasn’t a psychopath, it would almost be sad.

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