DVD review: Bronson (2009)

17 Jun

Cinecultania’s Ben Buckingham goes into lockdown with Britain’s most notoriously violent criminal Mr Charlie Bronson


“They don’t give you a star on the walk of fame for ‘not bad’ do they?”, so states Charlie Bronson rhetorically, setting forth  the agenda for his life: being bad, and being very good at it. Here we have a bio-pic of a different sort: the real life shenanigans of Britain’s most notorious and violent criminal.

Since his initial imprisonment, a 7 year term for armed robbery in which he made off with almost nothing, he has spent little more than 4 months outside of prison walls as a result of hyper-aggressive behaviour. Hostage situations, endless fights with prisoners and guards, and generally psychopathic behaviour have been the cause of this endless incarceration.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson doesn’t try to explain this strange creature; there are no quick answers in his upbringing and it does not glorify violence nor the criminal world. Bronson is unlike all the film criminals we have seen before, and Refn’s unusual film reflects this, preferring to ask questions of happiness and how do we live our lives than become an action piece or social commentary. Bronson is a deeply philosophical film. It is less about the individual, less about the specific events of Charles Bronson’s life, a man of masks, than it is about the niches we carve out for ourselves in order to survive. Refn has skillfully created a film which speaks beautifully of the failure of acceptable norms of existence. For this reason, the reactions to this film will always be complex and difficult.

In Charlie Bronson’s world, the prisons are always there. When Charlie is outside he is still framed by oppressive walls or blocked in by square buildings. The shape of the prison cells are reflected everywhere, even in the suburban rooms. The use of space is impressive, most noticeably in the insane asylum were a large common room is carefully manufactured into specific sections without employing any walls. Here the inmates are trained to recognise walls where there are none. They act out their own imprisonment.

Bronson has a great sense of the theatrical. The film is structured by Charlie, narrating the story from a stage, shifting in and out of his persona as brute prisoner, entertainer and clown. There is an aura of the ridiculous surrounding Charlie. The image he presents is one that reeks of the artificial: the simplicity of his freshly shaved head belies the constant upkeep required and the immaculately sculpted moustache immediately recalls the dastardly moustache twirling villians of yore and the bulbous muscle men of the carnival scene. Tom Hardy’s bravura performance creates a Bronson who appears to be forever saying “well, you’ve got to laugh don’t ya?”; if things are to be shit, then we might as well cover ourselves in it, make the most of it, and have a good story to tell. There is an amazing tenseness to his performance. His arms are held so taut that they’d bunch like his fists if they had extra joints. Tom Hardy gives us the Bronson who is totally and completely the hero of his own story.

However, one cannot help but wonder how much the bravado is a truthful representation of his ability to survive and define a distinctive place for himself in society, or simply a way to cover the extraordinary levels of rage, fear and hopelessness which govern his every movement. The use of music, from beautifully uplifting classical to oddly matched indie/electro, strikes the perfect chord in demonstrating this contrast between the objective horror and violence of prison and the subjective bravado of the gleefully deranged Bronson. He is a ridiculous, sad figure, one in which we could find meaning, and a violent psychotic with an artificial glamour. Every scene of actual, ‘normal’ human interaction is stilted, wonky.

Charlie comes of as mentally and socially deficient. He is no hero.

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Charles Bronson has transformed his life into a strange kind of performance art, using his body and his environment to distinguish himself from others, for better or worse. In Bronson, Refn, whose second English language production this is after his infamous Pusher Trilogy, has created a striking work of art, filled with intriguing and impressive performances. It is a beautiful film to watch, pulsing with vitality in the face of the bland English way of being.

Whether one finds it an uplifting tale of individual happiness in the face of adversity, or a deeply sad and disturbing story of loss and degradation, is entirely dependent on the audience.

Ben Buckingham

Links:

Ben’s most entertaining Blog and Podcast can be found right here.

Bronson is out in Australia through Madman

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3 Responses to “DVD review: Bronson (2009)”

  1. raise June 18, 2013 at 4:08 am #

    I read this piece of writing fully regarding the difference of latest and earlier technologies, it’s remarkable article.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. DVD Review: Mesrine (2009) « Australian Film Review - June 28, 2010

    […] Buckingham is hanging out with ultra-violent crooks again. Perhaps I should vary the movies I send him… Want to do Garfield 2: A Tail of Two kitties […]

  2. DVD Review: Mesrine (2009) – Australian Film Review - November 4, 2010

    […] Buck­ing­ham is hang­ing out with ultra-violent crooks again. Per­haps I should vary the movies I send him… Want to do Garfield 2: A Tail of Two kit­ties […]

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