Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bronson (2008) - Glutton for Punishment

On the Menu: BRONSON (2009)
Ingredients: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Hugh Ross and Juliet Oldfield. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Run time: 92 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: I've seen and own many films from Magnet Releasing (this being one of them). The preview made me think of the 2000 film CHOPPER starring Eric Bana, which I enjoyed immensely.

BRONSON is about Britain's most famous and most violent prisoner, Michael Peterson. In 1974, the 19-year-old Peterson robbed a post office and was sent to jail for seven years. He's still there. At the time of the film's release he had spent 30 of the 34 years in solitary confinement. The film's title is a reference to Peterson's alter ego, Charles Bronson, which is the name given to him by a boxing promoter during his short stint of freedom. He's shipped to a few different jails with an asylum thrown in the middle. Why? Because he makes a game of taking hostages in his cell, stripping naked and then proceeding to lay vicious beatdowns on the guards until he's overpowered.

He tells us early on that his parents aren't to blame for what he's become (it just happens to be a scene with an infant Michael behind the bars of a crib). He's a nutter, but he let's us know from the start that he wanted to be famous and knew he was meant for bigger things. It's like everything is a performance, which makes the director's choice of having Bronson on a stage speaking to us and a fake audience in between flashbacks even smarter. When addressing the camera he sometimes wears clown makeup, performs skits or even sings. It's actually funny, if not disturbing. These scenes seem to be representations of his imagination or hallucinations (he did seem to be drugged up a lot in the asylum).

Maybe he's just a delusional artist, who has become institutionalized. A telling scene for me is with the prison art instructor near the end of the film. The instructor, who had tabbed Bronson a "living Magritte," tells him, "You are finally going to get what you've always wanted." Bronson replies, "What you know about what I [really] want?" Then, the camera looks at him through the staircase (once again he's framed between bars). Cue the game, but not before Charlie creates his own Magritte while listening to Act I of the Delibes opera Lakmé.

That's another wonderful thing about this movie -- the music. The opening beatdown is hauntingly set to "The Electrician" by The Walker Brothers. The soundtrack includes stuff from Wagner, Strauss, Puccini and even the Pet Shop Boys, whose song plays at a dance for the inmates of the asylum.

There were a couple of other points about the opening and closing prison shots. Both involve cages (the last one not even big enough for him to stretch his arms out) and the colors of the shots are simply red and black. Either we're supposed to see a caged, bloody animal or someone trapped in a hell of his own choosing.

Tough to Swallow: It's hard to understand what is being said for most of the movie (and even the DVD's special features), and there are NO English subtitles. There are Spanish subtitles, but I took four years of French. Oh well.

Something to Chew On: Jason Statham was asked to play Bronson, but couldn't due to scheduling conflicts. It's weird I actually thought Tom Hardy seemed like a mix between Statham and Cole Hauser. Hardy ended up putting on 42 lbs. for the role. Hardy won the 2009 British Independent Film Award for Best Actor for this film, and deservedly so. Michael Peterson said he shaved off his mustache and gave it to Hardy to use for the movie. Peterson, using the Bronson moniker, has at least 8 books available on Amazon.com right now, including a book of poems, a fitness book and a prison guide. The Magritte painting that is recreated is The Son of Man. Magritte has this to say about the painting:  
... Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.
Hmmm. The artist hidden within a muscle-bound prison?

The film currently has a 6.6 user rating on IMDb.com (5,177 votes).

Note: I DID, in fact, eat everything in the title photo. Yes, all 3 sandwiches, plus the bacon and fries.

Sides: This  DVD has a nice collection of special features. The "Charles Bronson Monologues" lets you listen to the real-life Bronson talk about his current cage, meeting Tom Hardy and, among other things, his time on the asylum roof. There's a making-of featurette that lasts maybe 12 minutes. Another featurette shows the training Hardy went through to become Bronson. There are interviews with Refn, Hardy and Matt King (some of which are included in the making-of featurette). The DVD also includes some behind-the-scenes footage and the trailer.

Aftertaste: After seeing the BRONSON trailer I immediately drew comparisons to CHOPPER. Both are amusing and disturbing. This movie is sort of a biopic, but it's more a dark comedy. I've seen other comparisons including A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (my guess is because of the use of violence and music) and THE KING OF COMEDY (obviously linking the delusional main characters who think themselves to be great artists). Hardy was done a disservice by not being nominated for an Oscar. He was brilliant.

Refn has described this as a feminine film. I can see that. I mean, it's not your typical prison movie -- the prisoner wants to stay locked up. The smaller the cell, the more comfortable he is. Does the cage represent the womb? He doesn't seem to have a strong paternal figure. Jack (his uncle), Phil (his art instructor) and Paul (his prison friend) are all feminine characters, and Bronson seems to be at ease around them more than anyone else besides his mother. Aside from the fighting, the focus is more on the creative mind of the madman, e.g., his painting and his love of music. If you're a fan of British films, violence and dark comedies, then you'll love this. Now, be warned there are a few scenes involving male frontal nudity, but I told you about the guy's M.O. earlier. Also, there's a scene in the loony bin involving defecation. Regardless, I could watch the movie again. I'm a glutton for punishment, especially the stylish and intelligent kind.

Rating:

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