Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) was a disaffected youth who wanted to be noticed, so he took a sawed-off shotgun to a post office with an attempt to rob it. At first, he was sentenced for seven years for his crime (which barely netted him any cash), but after thirty-four years in jail, Peterson becomes Charles Bronson, taking his name from a Hollywood star. Based on a true story and a script by Brock Norman Brock and director Nicolas Winding Refn, Sundance ’09 alum “Bronson” is released by Magnet Friday.
Slant‘s Nick Shager raves about the film, “Whereas Bronson was a preternaturally nasty bloke, he was also a self-described “comedian,” and Bronson’s coup de grace isn’t simply its fitting Kubrick-indebted aesthetics—ominously patient, teasing camerawork, gorgeously symmetrical and low-level compositions, incongruous blending of sound and image, as well as its direct allusions to the Korova Milk Bar (in a strip club) and Alex’s iconic style—but its protagonist’s jet-black humor. As the famed inmate, whose bald head, upturned mustache, and imposing physique (usually nude or in white long-sleeved T-shirts) resembled that of a cartoon carnival strongman, Hardy is a whirlwind force of nature, stomping around a cell like a one-track pain train, leaping into battle with rabid-dog intensity (in one sequence, he actually takes on a Doberman), and in his first-person monologues, flashing unnervingly funny menace. Bronson so immediately and definitively establishes its template and character that each scene soon plays like a disturbed Loony Tunes cartoon replete with concluding punch(line).”
Writing at Cinematical, Scott Weinberg situates the film within the prison film genre, saying, “Many good prison movies get you knee-deep into the feeling of incarceration — but this movie goes a step further by putting you into an actual prisoner. Best of all, Bronson doesn’t spin its wheels or bother with unnecessary blather. This is a tight-fisted, bare-knuckled, and consistently challenging story about a man who’s really very fascinating — but damn, you really wouldn’t want to stand in the same room with him.” For Variety‘s John Anderson the equation is clear for the film’s success, “Too smart/arty for the slasher set, and too violent for high-brows, “Bronson” may have a tough time finding its niche, although it has ‘cult hit’ written all over it.”
In a four star review in the UK’s Times, Wendy Ide observes, “An abstract portrait of a legendary rebel, an attempt to get under the skin of a man who was all about creating a formidable surface impression: ‘Bronson’ is an example of a film that is, in all likelihood, considerably more intelligent and interesting than its subject — Michael Peterson aka Charles Bronson, ‘Britain’s most violent prisoner.'” On the other side of the pond, the Village Voice‘s J Hoberman tells a different story, “its over-bright palette and pop-eyed perkiness are assaultive in the manner of Australian comedies like Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding. The kernel of an idea—brutish antihero as irrepressible life force—is trampled into dust by the showy Sturm und Drang of Refn’s filmmaking.” And taking a more political bent to his review, almost going as far as to wonder why the film was even made, is Chris Tookey’s review in the Daily Mail. He starts that review by saying, “British Lottery-funded projects don’t come much more barking than Bronson, a heavyweight contender for most unpleasant, ugly and pointless film of 2009. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s ill-advised excursion into art-house brutalism begins with the actor playing Britain’s most violent prisoner saying to the camera: ‘I am Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.’Well, now he is. That’s one of the most obvious gripes about the movie. In taking a studiously nonjudgmental, fashionably nihilistic line, it will prove to morons the world over that attacking people for no reason is one sure fire way to attain celebrity.” Ouch!