2008 / 92m - UK
Comedy, Drama
Bronson poster

Every once in a while a film arrives that speaks to you instantly, but still manages to slip by. All the right people like the film and all the promo material looks stellar, but still, you can't find the time to actually sit down and watch it. Bronson could've been such a film, and boy am I glad I made that ultimate attempt to watch it anyway.

screen cap of Bronson

I'm not too big on trailers, reading previews, or digging into a film before I've actually seen it. I didn't even know Refn (you might remember him from the Pusher series) had directed Bronson. So I simply sat down and went in blank. After the first few words, I paused and switched the subs on. I love that British accent, but without subtitles I don't get too far.

Bronson is the story of Michael Peterson. He's young, he's bored, he's married, and so he robs a bank. Sadly he gets caught and ends up in jail. Still, determined to become famous, he doesn't give up his battle with life. His short fuse and violent nature help him in his quest, and not much later he becomes Britain's most famous and violent prisoner. He even takes on a stage name, hence the title. And if all of this sounds a little crazy, know that it's based on real facts.

Refn, rather than turning the film into a simple biopic, decided to make something more special out of it. The entire film is presented by Michael's character himself, in true cabaret monologue style. These scenes glue the story together and provide a good insight into Michael's main goal in life: becoming famous, by whatever means necessary. It's a bold choice of presentation, but one that works like a charm.

screen cap of Bronson

Visually Refn has progressed a lot since the Pusher series. The film is visually fun, cool, and quirky. A rather strange blend of Ritchie and Jeunet, with some other minor influences thrown in. Refn also does some smart tricks with the lighting to convey Michael's moods, leading to a few memorable scenes. Add some fast and snappy editing, and you have a visually impressive, fast-moving film.

The sound is equally solid, with suiting classical music and some messed up poppy tracks (Pet Shop Boys) thrown in for balance. But when all is said and done, it's Tom Hardy, the actor playing Bronson, who steals the show. The way he portrays Britain's most notorious prisoner is sublime, with his bald head, mean eyes, muscular body, and goofy mustache. Bronson is a crazy character, switching from laughs to violence in mere split seconds, hiding a warped mind behind a fearsome front, but always radiating a weird sense of humor. No doubt one of the best performances of the year.

screen cap of Bronson

The most surprising element of Bronson is that it's really a relatively pure and good-natured comedy. Not exactly what I was expecting, considering the nature of the subject, but Refn pulls it off brilliantly. Every aspect of the film is tailored to make it all a bit more amusing, though underneath the film remains a somewhat darker and viler stream of thought. As funny as it might be, there's still plenty of tragedy to be found too.

Bronson's form is not your typical choice for a biopic, or for a film in general. This might put people off, especially when they're expecting a more serious approach to his story. The only film I can really link it to is Chopper, which showcased a somewhat similar attitude toward its main character. So people who like their films just a little different, a bit more daring, and served with a dash of freshness will do well to check this one out. Highly recommended.