When Michael Gordon Peterson was 11-years-old, he watched Charles Bronson killing bad guys in the movie Death Wish. From that point forward, he started calling himself Charles Bronson. I remember being that age, and watching Bronson and Clint Eastwood (as Dirty Harry), and agree with Peterson – it was an adrenaline rush watching their vigilante antics. And in the Every Which Way But Loose movies, watching Eastwood beat up biker gangs, sometimes in paid fights, was also cool. We get a scene like that in this movie. At one point in these bare-knuckle bouts, he’s paid to fight two dogs. Yes, this is one bad dude.
Writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn (The Pusher trilogy) gives us a biopic that…isn’t really a biopic. Some will be bothered by that, but I found it to be an interesting choice that worked. Especially since this guy, who is known as “Britains worst prisoner,” perhaps having flashbacks to his childhood or speculation as to why he is the way he is, just wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, we get something that’s like A Clockwork Orange, with a circus strongman. He’s got the shaved head and handlebar mustache. We sometimes hear classical music while he’s bashing people in slow motion. It’s relentless, exhilarating, and disturbing.
Tom Hardy plays Bronson in what is a break-out performance. I’m only vaguely familiar with Hardy from a few of the Guy Ritchie movies, but he’s brilliant in this.
There are scenes where Bronson is breaking the fourth wall and addressing an audience. Is he in a theatre? Is it all in his head? Who knows, and who cares. He’s sometimes in a tuxedo, other times he has clown makeup caked on his face. Another time his face is painted on one side with a female prison guard, and he has a conversation with her. This guy is a real piece of work, and he always has that twinkle in his eye and at his core might just be a sweetheart.
He was born into a middle-class home and had decent parents. He started getting involved in a few thefts, robbed a post office, and had a stay at a psychiatric hospital. The few months he gets on the outside, we see him in a relationship, and lots of underground fights. Perhaps he feels more comfortable in prison, amongst his own people. It’s not such an unusual concept. Remember the character in The Shawshank Redemption that couldn’t adjust to life on the outside? It’s just baffling that he’d create so many fights in prison that they’re constantly sending him to solitary confinement (the film mentions that he’s spent 30 of his 34 years in solitary). Surely he was enjoying his time creating art, before he started fighting. Maybe he just really loves pain, and loves fighting…even when the odds are stacked against him (the guards have the billy clubs and the numbers).
When you see movies about real people, you always wonder how much of it is true. With this, you don’t question that. Even if a fight or two didn’t happen, or was filmed slightly different, it’s irrelevant. We realize we’re dealing with a nutjob, and you just go with it.
Hardy put on 35 pounds of muscle for the role (take that, De Niro). It’s the type of crazy performance that should be talked about the way everyone did with Heath Ledger’s Joker. I say we give him the Oscar right now.
Bronson said he considered the name Charleton Heston but it wasn’t tough enough. Glad he didn’t go with Bronson Pinchot.
This movie gets 4 stars out of 5.