Friday, August 20, 2010

"Bronson" (2008)

Starring Tom Hardy, Matt King and Kelly Adams
Written by Brock Norman Brock and Nicholas Winding Refn
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

Tom Hardy ("Inception", "Star Trek: Nemesis") stars as Charlie Bronson, "Britain's Most Expensive Prisoner."  Bronson was born Michael Peterson to a nice, middle-class family.  His stated goal?  To become famous.  His problem is his incredible temper.  He tries to live according to society's rules, but he simply can't.  Life in the "real world" doesn't appeal to him, not in the slightest - a life of "not bad," quiet anonymity is not for Michael Peterson.

After knocking over a post office, Peterson is sentenced to seven years behind bars, where he finally finds something to interest him: He loves being in prison.  His outrageous behavior nets him a reputation, and once he becomes known by the prisoners, he realizes that this is the fame he was searching for.  His outbursts become larger, more serious, eventually getting him shuttled from prison to prison in a vain attempt to find a place where he can be controlled.  After causing a massive riot, he's eventually sent to an asylum where his outbursts are controlled via strong sedatives that leave him a drooling fool.  Eventually, even this isn't good enough, when he attempts to murder a fellow inmate.
Desperate, the system makes a drastic move: they declare him sane and release him back into the world.  But Peterson falls into the same problems he had before; he simply doesn't fit in outside the prison walls.  He meets up with a fellow former inmate who introduces him to the world of underground fighting where he takes on the name Charlie Bronson, after the American film star.  He meets a woman and falls for her, but when he steals an engagement ring after she rejects him, he's sent back to prison once more, and the cycle starts once again.

Tom Hardy's darkly manic performance is ultimately the best thing about "Bronson."  The film isn't overly long, and the script feels like it glosses over a lot of things in favor of showing us lots of stylized narration and montage sequences.  While ultimately this is quite entertaining, I don't really have a sense of any of the other people in Bronson's life.  He says he loves this girl, but I can't for the life of me recall her name and I'm writing this review immediately after finishing the film.

Still, Bronson himself is hugely charismatic, and Hardy's performance is excellent.  The sense of barely controlled rage is palpable, and the film's surreal theatricality really enhances the insanity of it all.  Hardy really is the best reason to watch this film, though the direction is nothing to scoff at even if the script isn't as good as it could or should be.  A repeated image of Bronson between bars, whether its his childhood crib or stair railings, gives us a better sense of how Bronson seems to have spent his entire life in prison, one way or another, and that he's meant to be there.  The film ends with the revelation that, to this day, the real life Charlie Bronson is still in prison, with no release date in sight.  The film veers stylistically between absurdity, surrealism and the horrors of prison.

"Bronson" is a highly stylized tale of the life of a man who simply can't function in the world outside of prison.  His desire for fame and recognition in any normal man would probably lead to pursuit of the arts, acting or some other form of regular celebrity.  But for Charlie Bronson, it's the roar of the crowd behind bars that excites him the most.  While the film itself might be slight on story, it is visually quote engrossing and Hardy gives a knockout performance.  I have to recommend it on those aspects alone.