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Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bronson - 2008

I was unimpressed by Nicolas Winding Refn's film "Valhalla Rising", I thought it was tedious, overly gory and pretentious thus I wasn't to motivated to delve into the rest of his admittedly small filmography (he's only 40).
But after seeing his film "Bronson" I regret that decision, for this film is one of the best of 2009 which was a great year for films. (District 9, Inglourious Basterds....)
It is funny, thrilling, repelling and thought provoking all at once, the opposite of Valhalla Rising, in my opinion.

The film is loosely based on the life of Michael Peterson otherwise know as Charles Bronson, for years he has been known as Britain's most dangerous prisoner and Britain's most expensive prisoner, he has been in prison for a total of 34 years (30 of which were in solitary confinement).
All attempts at "reforming" him or "curing" him of his "insanity" have been failures.
He deliberately provoked fights with other prisoners and the guards, but most worrying of all, he admits that he enjoys prison, how should one deal with such a man, who sees violence not as a means but as an end in itself? Who's complete and utter lack of respect for anything and anyone combined with his apparent immunity to fear renders him unbelievably dangerous. 

English actor Tom Hardy plays Bronson and he does so extremely well, in fact he gave one of the best performances of the past decade. Now he is mostly known for his role in Inception and his casting in The Dark Knight Rises. But his performances in Inception and Guy Ritchies' RocknRolla (very average film) are infantile compared to his performance in this film.
He portrays Charles Bronson as an incomprehensible human being, this isn't a criticism for the character really is meant to be incomprehensible, his actions, his motivations, his emotions and even his slightest thoughts are a mystery to the viewer. Thus the film gains a level of unpredictability and recklessness that other films fail to reach, watching this I was continually astounded at Bronson's actions, I asked myself why he did such meaningless acts when he knew what the consequences would be for himself.
Is Bronson an anarchist, a psychopathic lunatic, a misunderstood man, a product of modern society etc?
The film doesn't make this clear, one of the only things we know about this man from the start of the film is that he wants to be famous.
And he certainly does become famous, in a very unconventional way. He himself admits "he can't act, can't sing" so he does what he can do beating people up, and he does it so well he earns the title of the most dangerous criminal in Britain.

One might wonder why anyone would want to make, let alone watch, a film about such an unsavoury and frankly quite horrible character. Yet despite his nature Bronson (or at least Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bronson) is very charismatic and fascinating to watch, quite unlike any character I have ever seen before. The performance is so intense that he is scary at times and seems to fill the whole screen.
Yet that does not mean he completely overshadows the supporting actors, they all do a great job and the film would be considerably less good without them. But Tom Hardy steals the show.

This film has been called the "modern day A Clockwork Orange", and rightfully so for there are many parallels to be drawn between the two films. One scene in particular stood out as being extremely similar to a scene in A Clockwork Orange, the scene in which Bronson returns home after all those years in prison to find his possessions gone, his house changed and his parents more than a bit awkward in his presence. If you've seen A Clockwork Orange you'll notice the similarities, if not you had better go and watch it immediately!

Now I previously mentioned that this film was "loosely" based on Michael Peterson/Charles Bronson's life, well that was a slight understatement, because although it follows the basic structure of Bronson's life it does not feel at all like a Biopic, this film is in a world of it's own, there are barely any references to the any events, people or dates that could help to place the events in this film in context with it's time. The film takes place over a very long period of time yet Bronson never appears to age, indeed he gets out of prison after 24 years and looks exactly the same as when he went in.
The film seems exists in it's own reality that it has created for itself and skirts over much of Bronson's life, most notably his writing (he has published a couple of books I believe), instead it sacrifices all accuracy, credibility and context for sheer entertainment value, and surprisingly it succeeds.

Scary stuff!

A word or two must be said about the way the film is presented to the viewer, it appears to be told in the form of reminiscences by Bronson. He provides narration and explanation which is vital to the narrative.
But strangely enough he also appears on stage before a large crowd, where he acts out various scenes from his life to the continuous applause. This was "out of the film" in a way and was most intriguing as a narrative device, it also prevented the film from becoming to depressingly bleak and added a bit of humour.

For indeed it would be depressing without the aforementioned aspect, most of the film takes place in various prisons and asylums, it is violent, dark and disturbing. It also features much full frontal male nudity for Bronson enjoys fighting naked....So be prepared, it's not something to see with children or those that are easily offended.
But this offensive nature doesn't always work in the films favour, the violence while not being full of bone crunching and blood spurting is still frequent and intense. One has to bear in mind that this film is told by Bronson, thus the violence is glamorised (in a strange way) but is glamorised for a logical reason for after all Bronson was a very violent man and since the violence in this film is told from his point of view it is natural that it should be portrayed as it was.

Nicolas Winding Refn has managed to create a film that is technically quite brilliant, slow motion fighting scenes (another nod to A Clockwork Orange) are present throughout, the colour palette is wonderfully varied going from bland and faded to bright white, diverse soundtrack and impressive long tracking shots combined with excellent editing.

Overall this is a film that deserves to be watched, it is hard to review for it is so full of energy and so unique that it is hard to pin down exactly what is so great about it yet I tried my best with this review!
I would recommend this film very highly, it is far better than, for example, a Guy Ritchie film yet it is very overlooked. It's as entertaining as it could possibly have been, filled with dark humour and features a performance from Tom Hardy that you're not likely to forget.
It's not a perfect film but it is unique and worth watching at least once!

Here is the Trailer:

Please leave a comment telling me what you thought of the review, the film or anything else that comes to mind! I will be sure to answer as soon as possible!

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