A young man who was sentenced to seven years in prison for robbing a post office ends up spending three decades in solitary confinement. During this time, his own personality is supplanted by his alter-ego, Charles Bronson.
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Nicolas Winding Refn
Kristin Scott Thomas,
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In 1974, a hot-headed 19 year old named Michael Peterson decided he wanted to make a name for himself and so, with a homemade sawn-off shotgun and a head full of dreams he attempted to rob a post office. Swiftly apprehended and originally sentenced to seven years in jail, Peterson has subsequently been behind bars for 34 years, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement. During that time, Michael Petersen, the boy, faded away and 'Charles Bronson,' his superstar alter ego, took center stage. Inside the mind of Bronson - a scathing indictment of celebrity culture.Written by
Charles Bronson was born under the name of Michael Gordon Peterson on the 6th December 1952 in Luton, Bedfordshire. See more »
When Peterson goes through intake at Hull Prison (?), the prison governor states "Well, well, well, Charles Bronson is it now? ...an American-Mongolian pop star" and the guard corrects him to say "film star".
However, the actor "Charles Bronson" (real name Charles Dennis Buchinsky) was an American from Pennsylvania with Lithuanian parents; not Mongolian. See more »
Right! That's enough! He's had enough, come on, get him out of here! Go on and get him the fuck out of here, he's had enough! Come on! You fucking cunts! No class next week. Right!
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Can you really produce a biopic about the theatrical brutality of Britain's most dangerous prisoner and not incite comparisons to Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange?" The trailer for Nicholas Winding Refn's "Bronson" spouts the likeness triumphantly with a quote attributed to Damien McSorley for the publication, "Zoo." Surely Kubrick is a flattering filmmaker to have your humble work compared to, though like American director Wes Anderson, who borrows all the style of the man but none of the content, "Bronson" is a film with an air of grandiosity and very little in the way of actual story. Kubrick's film, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, has a Dickensian plot that doubles back on characters and scenarios established in the first act, leaving nothing unchanged by the end of the third. It's a comparison under which "Bronson" unfavorably suffers: well directed, impeccably performed, but completely devoid of structure.
I don't mean to undersell the above compliments, however. Tom Hardy as lowly criminal Michael Peterson and his imprisoned superstar alter ego Charles Bronson, displays a remarkable, feral intensity in the role, spitting meaty, cockney chunks of dialogue with a truly disquieting voracity. And Hardy makes a perfect match for Refn: both share a larger- than-life approach to their craft. The director's visual audacity is never more sublimely paired with Hardy's performance than during Bronson's intermittent narrations; snippets of a surreal one-man stage show for some great, unseen audience. The cutaways recall the feel of Alex's presentation following the successful administration of the ludovico technique in "Clockwork Orange." Swooping crane and sweeping dolly shots, along with some fantastic locations, also evoke Kubrick's directorial sentiments, as does the more obvious accompaniment of classical score to key sequences.
Unfortunately, the failure of "Bronson" is not only that there's very little dramatically to be done with a man who spends the better part of his life in solitary confinement, but that beyond a vague notoriety, Peterson's ultimate goal is never particularly clear. The ending of the film is startling in its abruptness given that the scene seems interchangeable with any number of the fights Bronson picks over the course of the film. It doesn't feel a particularly epic brawl, and by that point, the tedium of Bronson's outbursts, battles, and increasingly severe punishments had worn me (though it could maybe be called a statement on the nature of desensitizing cinema--in that respect a reverse "Clockwork Orange") into a sleepy passivity.
The film is nevertheless a step the right direction for the usually-schlocky and hyper- masculine Refn, but "Bronson" still wants for the substantiality that makes great films great films. It isn't likely to inspire any further meditation on its subject beyond perhaps provoking a curiosity about the man himself in those intrigued but unsatisfied with the screenplay's frugal allocation of hard data and social context. But despite the film's inability to make clear its greater thematic intent, I don't think "Bronson" is a perversely violent film or that it exists solely as a fetishistic idol to counterculture, as some will likely label it, and have labeled Kubrick's masterpiece. Its beautiful cinematography (courtesy Larry Smith, interestingly enough, the lighting cameraman for Kubick's own "Eyes Wide Shut") and stellar lead may make it a worthwhile rental next year, but as it stands, "Bronson" is a precautionary tale. It's a film that has everything going for it except the the thing that matters most: its story. And you don't need to be Stanley Kubrick to figure that out.
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