Even some of the harshest critics of “Inception” seem to have enjoyed Tom Hardy in the role of Eames, a master of disguise in the dream world and a bit of comic relief on screen. Yeah, he’s pretty good in that, but wait ’til you get a load of him in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson,” a critical darling from 2008 that really should have a cult following already. Here’s hoping that Hardy’s latest role inspires more people to give this film a shot. I admit it wasn’t until I saw him in the new film that I finally made myself watch it. So I understand if others needed “Inception” to be the portal for discovery.
“Bronson” is a flashy and funny biopic about Michael Peterson, aka Charlie Bronson, the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” Partly because of the stylish collage-like structure of the film, and partly because Bronson comes off like a cross between Mickey Knox from “Natural Born Killers,” Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast” and a clip art cartoon of a stereotypical carnival strongman, it’s easy to forget the film is based on a true story. This is probably for the best, since you don’t want to be reminded too much that the guy on screen you’re so enamored with is an actual sociopath who’s been behind bars for more than 35 years, almost consecutively.
In the part, Hardy is like a raging one-man three-ring circus. He’s at different times a ringleader, a strongman, a clown, a lion, an elephant and one of those half-man, half-woman sideshow “freaks.” Most of these roles are filled during one of the film’s two fourth-wall-breaking devices, through which Bronson narrates his story, but in the dramatic scenes he’s all animal, and not the tamable sort you’re used to under the big top. Sporting a handlebar mustache and bald head, he’s also completely unrecognizable from his clean-cut appearance in “Inception.”
The story itself, as well as the way Refn depicts it, is almost too reminiscent of “A Clockwork Orange,” especially in scenes in which Bronson is first released back into the wild and reunited with his parents. It’s also nearly as monotonous a plot as you’d expect with a protagonist who’s been behind bars or in a mental institution the majority of his life. But Hardy constantly energizes the film with a burlesque sort of bravado and charm. It’s the kind of performance movie lovers crave, even if it does come with a large side of ham. It’s expected that Hardy will be looked at more by Hollywood thanks to his scene stealing turn in “Inception,” but hopefully casting agents keep “Bronson” in mind, as well. He’d clearly make a great supervillain with his serious yet animated spirit.
Now, can someone please explain why “Bronson” has an average user rating of “F” at indieWIRE?