Looking Back… Bronson (2008)

To celebrate the release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, we take a look at one of the directors defining roles with the inimitable Tom Hardy.  

Tom Hardy is a mysterious character, isn’t he? There is something hard to pin on about his character which is somewhat refreshing in this day and age of Twitter celebrities and Vines. He seems to be like that bloke down the pub who is all stoic and quiet but if you engage him for a sustained period of time (the words “my fuck, you are hot” never leaving your lips) – he will be sweet and funny. That’s not to say there aren’t stories of difficulties on sets because of his attitude; yet it always still seems it comes from a place of tentativeness rather that entitlement. What’s even more perplexing about Hardy is his complete unpredictability of cinematic roles and his willingness to transform. From a troubled Welsh construction worker in Locke to super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight, he is unafraid to tackle the gritty and the comedy all at once.

But his definitive role is most certainly Bronson 

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Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Hardy takes centre stage as the real life prisoner Charles Bronson who has been dubbed the most violent in prison. The story sees Charles from a scrapping young lad to his first conviction and, to put it lightly, his hostile behaviour in prison. Narrated via the cinematic character of Bronson, the film touches upon his good upbringing, his stint in a psychiatric ward, his murder and desperation to be inside again. As the movie dabbles in these elements, can the story of a vicious man, intent on cause harm sporadically through his incarcerated life become great cinema?

Yes – is the short answer.

Especially when the job is placed squarely on the muscular shoulders of Hardy. In an intimidating form, that impressed the man himself, Hardy exudes the inescapably enthralling personality of Bronson and his violent nature. Told through dreamlike stage sequences as the man explains his liking for fame – or infamy as this would go – the actor is excellent at transforming to this beast like man and delicately weaving the brutality with emotion. Hardy’s presence eclipses the entirely film greatly. Through implemented pauses that express more anger and discontent than his roaring ever could, Hardy’s tremendous performance shakes the narrative and movie with his booming vocals, insanity and undeniably fleshed out performance. The actor clearly knows how to inject personality and black comedy into a role that could easily have become a stale, one note portrayal of a man that has this disturbing legendary status. It’s Hardy’s astute capture that captivates wholly, completely and with a deafening bang.

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This all being said, Bronson is terrifically directed by Winding Refn who has proved time after time that he can visually master a violent drama without completely substituting it for the story. This staged phenomena, flitting between the story in Bronson’s head to the aesthetically appeasing cinematography in his real life, is greatly encompassed here. It is surreal, a clown standing in a blacked out stage regaling his masterpieces of crunching bone and strangulation. But Winding Refn’s film is still plentiful in adding depth and disorder to a rampant criminal. The approach is evocative – crazily so – put together like three ringed circus of depravity and entertainment. Particular moments such as the Victor/Victoria talk with a nurse all team with this odd but stirring filmmaking that is artistic in its weird visual overtones.

The narrative really struggles in the third half- overlong moments cause the plot to suffer – it is breathing with this energy willing to punch you in the gob in an irresistible cinematic way. Breathlessly entertaining, Bronson is a combination of slick bitter comedy, a ferocious lead performance by Hardy and a daring twist on the film. While it may dwindle, you are still invested in the story and this brutal icon who, heck, shaved off his own moustache so that Hardy could portray him accurately. It’s powerful, excruciating and devastating. Bronson is gruesome till the very end and grabs you by the balls in such a bloody good way. Make sure you watch it to see Hardy at his best…