Bronson was the film that brought director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Tom Hardy into my cinematic sights, and since then, I’ve followed both artists with intense fervor and anticipation. This film is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and even if it blends elements from other films within its framework, the overall originality of the entire endeavor is wild to watch unfold. The film uses a highly stylized structure consisting of surrealistic performance art, abrupt flashbacks, and jarring tonal shifts which makes sense given the extremely heightened aesthetic.
Hardy stars as real life British convict Charlie Bronson, aka, The Most Violent British Criminal Ever, a man given to massive fits of rage and stunning moments of primal, animalistic physical violence. The film is a crazy, bloody, kinky kaleidoscope of his oversized life, showing him in an out of the slammer, trying to adjust to the outside world, falling in love, getting mixed up with a variety of wacky side characters, and always spinning back on Bronson’s violent tendencies in almost every situation that he faced. Hardy is extraordinary, giving quite literally one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any actor in any film.
This is a forcefully bizarre movie, and he carries the entire thing, appearing in almost every scene, and letting it all hang out (literally and metaphorically), giving a ferocious performance of astonishing energy and personal chaos. His character is so unpredictable and so unstable that the viewer is constantly left to wonder what will happen next. All of the supporting performances are stellar and help contribute to the zany mood of the entire piece.
And then there’s the eccentric, eclectic soundtrack, featuring numerous classical opera pieces, as well as stuff from The Pet Shop Boys, Doris Day, and David Cassidy, all of which adds to the dense sonic layers of the soundtrack. I love how Refn brilliant subverts your expectations at almost every turn with this perverse movie. He knows you’ve seen other prison films and biopics, and I love how he defiantly refuses to play anything safe in this movie, which is probably the best overall piece of work in his already sensational career. He downplays the customary visual language of this particular genre, going for something more aggressively stylish and baroque than usual, and I love how he’s constantly undermining the inherent masculinity of Bronson as a character and the thugs that he encountered. The way Refn views his psychologically complex lead character suggests that he’s both in awe of Bronson, and totally in fear of him. Macho posturing is elegantly skewered all throughout, with the interesting layer of homosexual social commentary thrown in to spice things up, and also demonstrating the interesting duality to Bronson’s unique persona. Refn is constantly provoking his audience with every film he makes, always throwing multiple layers at you, and it seems to be his M.O. as a filmmaker to challenge whatever genre he’s working in, and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.
Review by Nick Clement