Time: 92 Minutes
Tom Hardy as Michael Gordon Peterson/Charles Bronson
Matt King as Paul Daniels
James Lance as Phil Danielson
Amanda Burton as Charlie’s mother
Kelly Adams as Irene Peterson
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
In this drama based on a true story, there’s no one tougher or more brutal in the English penal system than prisoner Michael Peterson, aka Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy). First incarcerated after robbing a jewellery store, the married Bronson is sentenced to seven years. But his incorrigible, savage behaviour quickly gets him in trouble with guards, fellow inmates and even a dog. The only place where Bronson can’t do any harm is in solitary confinement, where he spends most of his time.
I remember when I was going to watch Bronson for the first time. I liked director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, and I really liked Tom Hardy as an actor, and it runs out I liked Bronson too. It is for sure one of Refn’s more ‘accessible’ movies (at least when compared to the likes of some of his other movies like Only God Forgives). Having seen it for a second time, I probably like it even more now, a truly bizarre movie in the best possible way, directed greatly and with one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen at the front and centre of this film.
Bronson is quite the unconventional biopic, its subject is Michael Peterson, also known as Charles Bronson, who is often called the most violent prisoner in Britain. However, Refn’s take on the story isn’t straightforward or what you’d initially expect. First of all, it doesn’t even remotely attempt to paint a sympathetic picture of the character/person, and much of the storytelling is from Bronson’s perspective. In the first 5-10 minutes you pretty early on get a sense as to what kind of movie it is. There are some moments where we get to see Bronson’s more vulnerable side, mainly in the second act. At the same time however, it doesn’t try to explain Charles Bronson, rather letting the audience make up their own answers for him. Bronson is greatly written too, quite entertaining, and even has a fair share of dark comedy in there too. Much of the movie reminds me of A Clockwork Orange, from the style to some of the way certain scenes were handled. As far as issues go, there are some pacing issues towards the second act. Without giving too much away, it’s not quite as outrageous or filled with violence as the first act, but in general you really feel it slow down suddenly, and even some of the energy died down noticeably. Now I still liked the second act and there’s a good reason why the pacing was that slow considering that part of the story, but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless. Bronson is about an hour and 30 minutes long, and that was about the right length for this movie.
This movie surrounds the character/real life person of Charles Bronson (the criminal, not the actor of course), and so much of the film heavily relies on the actor playing the titular role. Tom Hardy (who wasn’t such a big name just yet back in 2008) did such a fantastic job in the role. This could very well be Hardy’s career best performance, and knowing much of the work he’s done, that’s saying a lot. He’s full of energy, he has the physicality, he’s charismatic, he’s scary, and has such a powerful screen presence that carries much of the movie. He’s incredibly electric and a force of nature in this, you definitely don’t see Hardy at all in this role, moustache aside. Surprisingly, he also portrays Bronson’s emotional side very convincingly too, painting a picture of a man that’s a little more than just violent and insane (even if it’s not neatly laid out what kind of person he is). He really does capture this real life person incredibly well. The rest of the actors in the supporting cast do play their part well, but it is the Tom Hardy show.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction is nothing short of exceptional, much of how he told the story is why this movie works so well. It’s an absolutely stunning looking movie from beginning to end, and unsurprising considering this is Refn, especially when it came to the use of colour. It’s not just the cinematography aspect of the direction that’s great, a conventional biopic it is not. The mix of narration and fourth wall breaks from Hardy’s Bronson works perfectly. In much of the movie he’s talking and performing to a stage audience (mostly shown in the first act). That sort of dies down a bit after the first act, but it nonetheless makes quite the impression. The music choices worked very well for the movie too.
Bronson is an entertaining and unconventional ‘biopic’, wonderfully directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, but its backbone is Tom Hardy as the titular character, who is absolutely tremendous in the role. I’m not sure that it is for everyone, but I thought it was great. Hardy’s performance alone makes it a must see.