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  Bronson The Art Of Violence
Year: 2008
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Amanda Burton, Hugh Ross, Joe Tucker, Juliet Oldfield, Kelly Adams, Katy Barker, Edward Bennett-Coles, William Darke, Andrew Forbes, Helen Grayson, Kate Hesketh, Leah Hinton-Fishlock, Anna Griffin
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is Charles Bronson - no, not the late American star of action films, the man who took his name, formerly Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) who has spent nearly all of his adult life behind bars. He takes us through his life to see what has led him to this state of affairs, starting with his childhood, which was no different from many his age except that he had a problem with authority, and liked to fight. Nothing surprising, but he did get into trouble with the police, and by the time he had left school and gone to work, he was headed for a criminal career after being arrested for robbing a post office...

The movies love a rebel, and here was a real life one for director Nicolas Winding Refn to place in front of an audience for them to make up their own minds whether Bronson was a man worth looking up to for his anti-establishment obsession, or a man to be pitied for giving in to his baser instincts and becoming notorious and ridiculous. The way he is presented here leaves it up to you if you admire him or not although you get the impression that the filmmakers were very much enamoured of their subject matter but had to include some sops to the law where it was shown that Bronson didn't get things all his own way.

Except he actually does, if this fictionalised version of him is to be believed. All he wanted, according to this, was to be a celebrity and when he found something he was good at, he embraced it even though that thing was being the country's worst prisoner. Here Hardy purrs out his lines in gruff tones, undeniably charismatic, and a performance that puts many biopics to shame in depicting their protagonists - he genuinely seems to have got under Bronson's skin, and is by far the most magnetic personality in this. Not that Refn would allow it any other way, as everyone else is strictly supporting character material or as little as a bit part, from Bronson's parents to the guards to the fellow immates.

Once our anti-hero reaches prison, he realises that this is the place he has been born to inhabit, and does everything in his power to stay put even though he was only supposed to be inside for seven years, less for good behaviour. Unfortunately "good behaviour" was not a phrase in the man's vocabulary, and he implemented a campaign of violence against anyone he could get his hands on, though mainly the guards, to ensure he was banged up in solitary and enjoying the kind of incarcerated lifestyle he felt he deserved. He does not claim to be an angel, far from it, but with the scenes where we see Hardy giving a one man show to a theatre audience we sense his own approval for his actions is all he needs to justify himself.

Watching ninety minutes of a man in a prison cell on his own might not seem too appealing, so Refn and his co-screenwriter Brock Norman Brock made up a few embellishments, with quite a bit of time devoted to a fictional period in Bronson's life when he was freed for three months. Here he gets involved with bare knuckle boxing, falls in love, steals and gets put back in prison, all very well, but you wish they had stuck to the facts a little more. The sequences where he is jailed are the best, as he is shipped from one prison to another, to high security hospital to an asylum for the criminally insane until they decide that he's not mad, simply bad. Weirdly, thanks to Hardy the film finds a kind of integrity to Bronson in that they respect that he was a man who worked out what he wanted and in his almost childlike, naughty schoolboy way took it to an extreme. Whether he deserved to have a film made about him, and whether it is accurate in its allusive judgements, is not quite as clear.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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