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Bronson | DVD Review

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Charlie Bronson propels the film from a simple curiosity to a must-see film. It’s a crime that he hasn’t received more recognition for his portrayal.

Released earlier this year on DVD from Alliance (Universal), Bronson comes with quite an impressive pedigree: Best Film at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival, nominated for the Grand Jury prize in 2009 at Sundance, not to mention the scads of praise for its star, Tom Hardy (RocknRolla, L4yer Cake), who turns in a magnificent performance as Britain’s most notorious and dangerous prisoner. But is the film really that good?

In this stylishly violent biopic from writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn (2003’s under-appreciated Fear X), Hardy plays Michael Peterson, a small-time crook prone to rage-fueled outbursts who is sent to prison for seven years after attempting to rob a post office at gunpoint. Thirty-four years later – thirty of which have been spent in solitary confinement – he’s still there. Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? How many times can we watch Paterson, who takes on the moniker of Charles Bronson when he’s told he needs a tougher-sounding name, take a guard hostage simply to get a rise out of the rest of the prison staff and take on all comers until he’s finally subdued and beaten into submission? Well, hold on there, because there’s something about the film that keeps viewers glued to the screen despite the fact that not much happens besides a repetitive series of ultra-violent scenarios that always result in another extended stay in solitary for Bronson. What that something (or somebody, to be precise) is is pretty simple: Tom Hardy.

Hardy did a lot of preparation to play ‘Charlie Bronson’ and he completely owns the role. The character narrates the film, often in a theater in front of an adoring crowd, and occasionally speaks directly to the camera. Bald and chiseled, with a twirly moustache that makes him look like one of those vaudeville-era strongmen, Hardy’s Bronson is all malevolent charm, if such a character trait is possible. Comparisons have been made to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Refn definitely wears that influence on his sleeve. But A Clockwork Orange this ain’t. Kubrick’s film, while basking in the ultra-violence it depicted, was a social satire rife with commentary about government control of private lives and the evils of systemic treatment of perceived mental disorders. There’s not much commentary to be had in Bronson. It’s simply a series of violent vignettes set to bombastic classical music, with a couple of more subdued scenes to break up the monotony, like when Charlie is sent to a mental ward and we’re treated to the sight of the inmates dancing to a Pet Shop Boys song. And yet, even though the story itself doesn’t have too much going for it, you still are enthralled with the powerhouse acting of Tom Hardy as Michael ‘Charles Bronson’ Peterson.

The film itself has a grainy look that’s more than adequately displayed onj the DVD. The 5.1 surround sound mix is a bit of a hassle, as you’ll have to turn your sound up to try and hear all the dialogue, only to be jolted out of your seat when the music kicks in loudly during the many scenes of Bronson dishing out the beatings. There are quite a few special features included on the disc:

Charles Bronson Monologues
This is the only time when the real Charlie Bronson makes an ‘appearance’. It’s hard to make out what he’s talking about in these audio recordings set to stills from the film and behind the scenes, but it’s interesting nonetheless, if only because it’s eerie to remark how spot-on Hardy’s vocal performance was.

Making-of Documentary
Pretty standard fare in this short making-of documentary featuring shots of cast and crew during the filming of Bronson.

Training Tom Hardy
This featurette shows what lengths Hardy went to in order to prepare for the role, including adding thirty-five pounds in bulking up to portray the off-the-wall Bronson, who is a notorious health freak who even published a book about staying fit with minimal props; one must be creative when working out in solitary confinement, it would seem.

Interview with: Nicolas Winding Refn (Writer/Director), Tom Hardy (Actor – Charles Bronson), Matt King (Actor – Paul Daniels)
Refn goes into detail as to why he wanted to make this film about Britain’s most notorious convict, and King more or less heaps praise on Tom Hardy. It’s Hardy’s interview that is really the gem, though, as he recounts some of the conversations he’s had with the real ‘Charlie Bronson’, going in and out of character as he plays out the dialogue between himself and Bronson.

Behind the Scenes Footage
More typical behind-the-scenes footage, which is always fun, if only to see the actors and crew interacting off-screen, as themselves.

With Bronson, Nicolas Winding Refn shows that he’s got a flair for visual style – albeit very heavily influenced by the aesthetic of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. But it’s Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Charlie Bronson (it’s almost like he’s been possessed by the spirit of Bronson, even though he’s still alive and kind of well) that propels the film from a simple curiosity to a must-see film. There’s a reason this review didn’t mention any of the other actors, and that’s because this is Tom Hardy’s film. It’s a crime that he hasn’t received more recognition for his portrayal.

Movie rating – 4

Disc Rating – 3.5

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