BRONSON is based on the true story of Britain’s most notorious criminal. Much like Andrew Dominik’s CHOPPER (2000), it’s an unlikable movie about an unlikable person, a criminal so violent and depraved he has spent 30 of the past 34 years in solitary confinement. Tom Hardy, a staple in British film and television, plays Charles Bronson as a cocky, reckless man who refuses to make excuses for his behavior.
Born Michael Peterson, he changes his name to Charles Bronson at the insistence of an eager fight promoter, and it isn’t long before his propensity for violence lands him a 7-year stretch in prison for robbing a post office. Bronson narrates portions of his story while sitting on a chair under a spotlight, speaking directly the audience. He says he thought prison would be a good opportunity to “sharpen my tools, hone my skills”, and all the flippant talk of beat-downs and stompings seems to indicate that a rollicking good prison action flick looms on the horizon. But BRONSON isn’t an action film, it’s an art film, and frankly, not a very good one.
At various points in his prison career, Bronson goes off for absolutely NO reason, beating up prison guards—sometimes (inexplicably) naked—or taking a hostage, which adds years on to his existing sentence. Bouncing from prison to prison, to a mental institution, and then back to prison again, Bronson embraces his empty lifestyle with complete abandon, never regretting a single choice he’s made, even as he spends most of his days alone in his tiny cell. Spending 90 minutes with a character who is smothered by his own self-assured misery doesn’t make for a very fun night at the movies.
Of course, there’s still the subject of the prison fight scenes to discuss. First, there aren’t that many of them. Second, what few fight scenes exist are so murky, grainy, and dark, that any choreography is rendered completely incomprehensible. And these aren’t the adrenalized fight scenes of UNDISPUTED or ROCKY III, these are art film fight scenes, like the kind you might find in GIRLFIGHT. Nothing to get excited about. Seriously, the Stephen Dorff fight scenes in FELON were better than anything on display in BRONSON.
Steeped in a weirdly frustrating burlesque, BRONSON isn’t funny or amusing enough to be entertaining, but it’s not all that easy to take seriously, either. What’s the point of the face paint? Or the scene where a bunch of mental patients dance to “It’s a Sin” by the Pet Shop Boys? What’s the point of any of it? I, for one, am not going to waste another second thinking about this ugly, unpleasant movie. You shouldn’t either.