A great performance does not a great film make. While Tom Hardy makes quite an impression as Britian’s most notorious criminal, the film that surrounds his blistering performance simply does not measure up. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of this Charlie Bronson. Born Michael Petersen in the early 1950s, Petersen was sentenced as a young man to serve seven years for robbing a post office of 26.18 pounds (roughly $62 US at the time). But thanks to a never-ending series of aggressions in the big house, and crimes committed during his two brief moments of freedom (one of which, as a bare-knuckles fighter, he was given his alter ego nickname), Petersen/Bronson has spent all but 121 days in the past thirty-five years in jail. And herein lies the main problem with the film. Director Nicholas Winding Refn isn’t particularly concerned about the circumstances that led Petersen to become the monster he became. Refn just wants to show you all the naked hostility and rage that makes the man, and when I say “naked hostility,” I mean that quite literally. You’ll see, if you choose to see this.
”Bronson” bounces back and forth between the actions of the man who becomes the nation’s most infamous hood and an alternate world where he stands on a stage, telling his story alternately to a tuxedoed and gowned audience inside a semi-ornate theatre and to us directly. These monologues, allegedly based on communications between Refn and the real life Bronson, give Hardy a good showcase to be wild and crazy, but they really don’t advance what little story there is. And when Bronson isn’t beating the snot out of someone and/or getting the snot beat out of him, the film just drags until the next outburst of brutality.
As a film viewer, I don’t particularly mind if some things in a story are left for the viewer to decide for themselves. The fatal flaw in Refn’s film is that nothing is answered outside of how Petersen got his nickname. Why did Petersen always get in to trouble as a youth? Why are we quickly introduced to the young woman who will become Petersen’s wife, and bring a baby into the mix, only to never acknowledge their existence as soon as he is in jail? Why are Petersen’s parents okay with their son after his release from jail after fourteen years, when the film establishes him by this time as being a very dangerous person? It doesn’t matter, I guess. We’re just meant to sit there, enjoy the ultra-violence and marvel at how much “Bronson” wants to be a modern-day “A Clockwork Orange,” replete with Verdi and Wagner and Puccini on the soundtrack.
”Bronson” is not a great film, and it will never become iconic like “Clockwork” or “Fight Club,” but it’s worth checking out if only to knowingly talk up your friends about Hardy’s wild performance and how he squares up as someone on the fringe of awards consideration.Rating: C