Thursday, July 23, 2009


By D.E.Levine

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Writers: Brock Norman Brock and Nicholas Winding Refn
Producers: Rupert Preston and Danny Hansford
Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King , Terry Stone, Amanda Burton, Jonathan Phillips, Hugh Ross, Kelly Adams, China-Black, Joe Tucker, Edward Bennett-Coles, Katy Barker
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Action, Biography, Drama

Bronson is an extremely violent and disturbing film. It is anything but genteel which we associate with British films. Released originally at film festivals in 2008, the film recounts the life of Michael Peterson, a real and legendary British subject, a thug, then in his 34th year of incarceration. The British tabloids claim Michael Peterson is the most violent prisoner in Britain.

He was born in 1952 in Aberystwyth and moved to Luton with his family. In school he was a violent bully and after graduation he married, bungled a post office hold up for a paltry sum, and was arrested and sentenced in 1974 to 7 years in prison.

He thoroughly enjoyed brawling with anyone he could and upon his release he "apprenticed" himself to another ex-con who introduced him to bare-knuckled fighting and dubbed him Charles Bronson after his favorite tough-guy Hollywood actor.

In a departure from normal story telling, Bronson both narrates the story to the camera and performs it on stage in front of an admiring and cheering audience. During his performance he is painted as a clown (possibly the scariest ever) and in a spotlight.

Bronson comes across as a conceited individual addicted to savage violence and the celebrity status it gives him in prison. Although he never killed or advocated killing, his hostage-taking and brutal beatings placed him in a class by himself.

His crimes were relatively small but his ongoing belligerence and hostage taking resulted in additional years being added to his sentence, which was continually extended. He was such a difficult prisoner that eventually he was declared insane and transferred to a psychiatric unit.

The film does not offer any psychological or sociological explanation for his actions but we do learn that Charlie wants to be famous and extreme violence is the only method that offers him a means to that end.

Tom Hardy's performance as this felon is mesmerizing, horrifying and convincing as he embraces the role and demeanor of a psychopath. Other movie villains look tame in comparison and his actions are such that the viewer can almost believe Charles Bronson deserves the multitude of years spent in solitary confinement.

Ironically, the filmmakers have concentrated on the feats and mentality that turned Peterson into Bronson, but the audience never really gets to see and understand the man. The question remains whether Peterson's transformation was the result of adopting a protective persona in order to survive his incarceration.

Instead of condemning his actions, the filmmakers point out that the naked brawling, hostage-taking and total mayhem were Peterson's creative outlet. At the beginning of the film he says "I had a calling. I just don't know what as."

In the end Bronson doesn't convince us that what he did was performance art rather than a cage beast seething and reacting. He is utterly repellent and one wonders whether glorifying him through film is worthwhile.