28 April 2012 | bob the moo
The subject is undeserving and unexamined but the delivery is engagingly over-the-top
Bronson is the story of a very violent man, a man with clear mental issues that have gained him the infamous title of the most violent criminal in the UK; he is undeserving of attention on the scale this film gives him and the idea that he is somehow pleased with the film or that it has earned him "fame" is something that sat uneasy with me while watching and continues to sit uneasy with me afterwards. Morally I wondered why I came to the film and also why it was made; director Refn certainly doesn't seem bothered by this though and indeed did himself no favours by famously illegally taping the real man's comments on the film for broadcast at the premiere. So with this in mind it is hard to swallow a film that doesn't seems to have a certain apathy towards the central character – not a great choice of word perhaps but, while the film doesn't go as far as admiring Bronson, it certainly doesn't condemn him or present him in a way that will revile an audience.
Having said that though, what Refn seems to have done is created this film where Bronson tells us his own story. This allows for a soft touch (as it is his own) but also for this violently compulsive mind to create and fill the film so that he is equally a larger than life character while also being quite terrifying in his snaps and swings. The result of this approach is not a film that is to be relied on for the facts of the story but it is one that really delivers a quite dizzying film in terms of borrowed styles, impact, violence and sheer over-the top bravado. It is hard to really process because on one hand this was a problem for me but on the other it actually worked very well to produce a film that is as much a monster as its subject – and the kind part of me wants to believe that this was the point.
If it was then it is successful in some way because it is a beast of a film that comes at you violently and persistently. This is not all praise perhaps, but this is what it does. Depending on your point of view, Refn's direction either pays homage or rips off plenty of others as he throws visual styles and flairs at the screen as if he never thought he's make another film. There are countless reference points are in here if you want them, but for sure Clockwork Orange is what he is going for and I suppose in some way the sheer energy with which he goes after it is commendable. It is not his style and it doesn't make you forget the failings in substance, but it is engaging as pure style. Matching him step for step in this regard is an incredibly ballsy performance from Hardy. It is worth noting that I do not think it is great when it comes to character or intelligence but these failings are in the material, not with Hardy – he follows his director and he deserves a lot of credit for not flinching from anything. He is intense but yet flamboyant, disturbed but yet disturbing, a nice bloke but yet a hideous monster – and it is all done with 100% conviction. His Bronson is not a well-crafted character but (rightly or wrongly) he isn't meant to be and Hardy hammers home what he has been given.
Bronson is not an easy watch. For one reason it features strong violence, language and nudity that may put some off, but the much bigger reason for me was the lack of morality within the construct of the story. The lead character is allowed to tell his own story and as he twists it with his ego, so the whole film is twisted by his ego – Bronson as a man doesn't deserve this done on his behalf and it sat uneasy with me. The saving grace though is that the whole thing is excessive and full-on from the director, an approach which in turn draws an intense and bravely excessive performance from Hardy that makes this really worth watching even if it has a lot of problems in it and around it.