152) Bronson (2009) Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn Date Released: October 2009 Date Seen: May 30th, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5
There's a decent stretch of Bronson, Nicolas Winding Refn's surreal faux autobiography of Michael Peterson (AKA Charles Bronson), that detaches itself from our protagonist's controlling POV. In it, it becomes clear that Refn is no longer allowing the man to tell his story in his words and images but is rather speaking for him as a ventriloquist. While the film's first half makes it seem as if Bronson's grandiose world of theatrical bloodshed is being respectfully recreated, the aforementioned period in the film's second half substantiates an unsettling but unavoidable truth about Refn's character study. Being the cocksure and sufficiently talented young artist that he is, Refn patronizingly trying to turn Michael Peterson into the next Alex.
The surname-less Alex I'm referring to is of course the egomaniacal prison system victim in William Burgess and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Comparing Alex to Bronson is easy considering how both are essentially wild animals turned feral by prison cruelty. As the film's coda announces, Bronson, (Tom Hardy, in his bravura breakout role) "is Britain's most famous prisoner," because he's one of the most violent and the most stringently repressed--"He has spent 34 years in jail, 30 of them in solitary confinement." Bronson's story is thus one that centers on his continual struggle to re-assert control of his emotions and his life. Because he would turn his life into an opera, he alternately narrates his story from a prison cell and from a theater stage in front of an imaginary full house.
That kind of naked ambition is one that Refn readily accommodates but not without a queasy sense of humor. Bronson's mercurial nature, partly due to his surroundings but mostly because of his brutal restlessness, lends itself to cruelly condescending jokes at his expense. One minute he's barking the "c" word at a prison guard he's taken hostage and the next he's meekly asking him, "Well, what happens now?" Refn turns him into a confused monster in a world he never created, a tragic savage that constantly lashes out to maintain the illusion of power. This makes Bronson a gorgeously constructed case study that is far too easy to tease meaning out of.
During the scenes where Bronson's out of prison for a scant 69 days (he robs a jewelry store), we see Refn poke take some revelatory jabs at our anti-hero but we also see him ease back and tell his story in a more honest and less obtrusive way. We get to see him stripped of his imaginary audience and his vaudeville make-up, a clownish figure permanently out of touch with reality. Here, Hardy shows his skill with broad comedic gestures that make him look like an indignant doberman. As a sequence unto itself, it works wonderfully but as part of a story where a mustachioed gorilla tries to build himself up to the Olympian heights of movie stardom through fantastic brawling, it's a long, hard dose of movie-reality.
Note: I liked Hardy's muscular performance quite a bit but I think I'll wait 'til I rewatch this one or see him in something else that can confirm my opinion of him. I can't remember him too well from Rock n Rolla but I remember that he was in it. Eh, time will tell.