"BRONSON" (2009 UK Release) DVD New Release

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn

Writers: Brock Norman Brock & Nicholas Winding Refn

Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Juliet Oldfield

Rating: R18+

                                                          Review by Warrick Fraser

This film is a work of art. Maybe not a popular art form, but one that sits in your mind, a very curious ebb for days.

"Now, that's a piece of me" cites the centre character Charles Bronson (born Michael Peterson),

a comment that seems familiar & universal.

Based on the real life Charles Bronson (rising actor Tom Hardy), who has been in various UK prisons

for 34 years or so, with 30 in solitary confinement. Some time was spent in mental institutions, though

certified sane. His original sentence, for a failed small-time robbery, was 7 years. But due to violent &

nonconformitive outbursts, the sentence continues to grow. Libertarian support groups of Charles Bronson

oppose the fact he has never had a trial. The other fact, he has never murdered anyone, leads one to

acknowledge a lack of judicial responsibility on the English Court's behalf. Unending incarceration, not

rehabilitation, surely exacerbates a violent nature. Australia's Chopper was more brutal & is a free man.

And so an anti-hero comes to light. The making of a great central character.

It's not really a biographic or political piece. That is exactly what it should be.

Instead it arguably encompasses & breaches those directions into something else entirely.

The exploration into what makes a man transform into a conceited pseudo-celebrity boxer/artist is

never clear, though hinted at, but the journey taken through Bronson's 1970's & 80's is far too

interesting in his mind. His spirit, strange, pure & rebellious.

                                                              Amidst the black humour, violence & bloody art are the main helmsmen: Danish Director/Writer

                                                              Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher trilogy), Co- Writer Brock Norman Brock (UK Film Council),     

                                                              Cinematographer Larry Smith BSC (former Kubrick crewmember) & theatrically trained Tom Hardy    

                                                              (Layer Cake in the lead role. They all assist greatly to create a cult classic. Even through casting 

                                                              problems, location issues, tight budgeting conditions & many re-shoots.

                                                             The 16mm grain & colour palette of the stark imagery, mostly of Bronson in various prison sets,

                                                             continues to lead the viewer's attention despite not keeping to modern Hollywood formulae.

                                                             Kubrick's influence is mentioned universally across the internet. With the occasional flavour of

                                                             Dennis Potter. Among my personal favorites. Films like Amelie, Spun, Killing Zoe, Chopper,

                                                             & of course Clockwork Orange are spiritually similar in style. The difference being Tom Hardy's

                                                             Bronson is a presence in every shot.

Tom Hardy, who caught my attention in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), carried the below-average story

of that film as an alien clone of Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard. Not an easy role to splice it up

on-screen with one of England's best. Yet, it was done with ease for a young actor. Here, Hardy is

completely transformed & irrefutable. Matt King as Paul, the camp ex-con boxing manager is like a

creepy cartoon. James Lance, the brilliant art teacher, & the drab warden played by Jonathan Phillips

add suitable vexing elements to Bronson's world. Juliet Oldfield is perfect as the icy distraction,

more pieces on a weird chessboard in Bronson's mind.

Bronson, the characture of the man, is always compelling seen from the outward recollection of his theatrical inner persona.

With moments of ludicrousness that hint at split personality or clever distraction on Bronson's behalf. His artistic element is focused on

& is depicted yearning through the violence. The large gaps in his emotional & personal growth lead the viewer dumbfounded as to how

he has developed any ethical stance & strangely powerful philosophy. This was an interpretation gathered from the UK urban legend of Charles Bronson. And placed in a surreal collection of Bronson's life & infatuation with fame. All the character's harness self obsession

on-screen, from the girlfriend to the warden, & there may be a subconscious meaning hidden there. What is no mystery is Charlie's

desire to be no one's slave, servant or prisoner. An inner dream that film Chopper did not portray, despite the comparisons.

                                                              The soundtrack contains Kubrick influenced classical pieces like Wagner, Music supervisor

                                                              Lol Hammond providing influence here. Juxtaposed with obscure pop music similar to 70's gothic 

                                                              cinema synths found in great effect in films like The Keep or The Hunger. It just works in an

                                                              operatic sense. In this case, sometimes humour.

                                                             The DVD contains Directors' Commentary & a brief interview with Refn. Both made for

                                                             Australian release. Refn doesn't provide as much technical insight as other more intense

                                                             commentaries that I favour, but authentic & sincere. Important anecdotes include references to

                                                             Kubrick (obviously) & Jean Junet, the early rejected mainstream biographical inception of the

                                                             script, & plagiarising techniques from independent filmmaker Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising".

                                                             A brief mention of collaborators to assist Refn's inventive interpretation & updating of the script

                                                            during shooting. Trailers are also included. I would have really loved a short documentary on the

                                                            real Bronson & more commentaries from the cinematographer & actors, but independent budgets

                                                            rarely allow such luxuries. And this subject is still oppressively taboo in the England.

Bronson's all-consuming desire to be famous may, or may not be, explained in Refn's comment

"We live in a celebrity-obsessed society, but we don't know of the consequences at the time".