Saturday, 30 June 2012


"You don't want to be trapped inside with me sunshine. Inside, I'm somebody nobody wants to fuck with do you understand? I am Charlie Bronson, I am Britain's most violent prisoner."

Bronson is a biopic of Charles Bronson, real name Michael Peterson, Britain’s most famous prisoner. After being sent down for seven years in 1974 for armed robbery, Bronson got a name for himself by attacking guards, prisoners and holding hostages. This film starts Tom Hardy in the title role and takes place mostly during his incarcerated life (38 years and counting) but also briefly touches on his childhood and a brief stint of freedom. The narrative uses both a traditional plot account and a sort of talking head from Bronson in which he comments on various parts of his life from the present. There are also some quite superb and eccentric scenes in which Bronson is on stage, performing to an audience.

I’d seen this film upon its release in 2008 and had bought the blu-ray in about 2010 but hadn’t watched it again until last night when we had some friends visiting. I remember being blown away by the violence and Tom Hardy’s performances back in 2008 but don’t remember laughing so much. This film is funnier than the majority of mainstream Hollywood comedies.

The film is darkly comic and at times you are unsure if you really should be laughing. Sometimes it was Hardy’s reactions or mannerisms that made me laugh while at other times it was things I really shouldn’t be laughing at such as people dancing in a mental asylum. Hardy’s sudden bursts of anger and violence can be quite shocking but also very funny. As the film progresses you get to sense when they are coming and this really helps rack up tension. One scene in which Bronson kidnaps a guard and orders him to rub butter on his arse “Faster, faster, FASTER, FASTER!! FASTER!!! Sit down you C*NT!!” is both darkly comic and shocking.

The violence is doled out in short sharp bursts much like in director Nicolas Winding Refn’s more famous Drive but here there is much more violence and unlike in Drive it is not in order to protect the lead character or his loved ones, it is simply for amusement or perhaps even boredom. The film looks at Bronson’s sanity (or lack there of) but shies away from coming down on one side or the other. Bronson has spent much of his time in secure psychiatric hospitals and his mental state has often been called into question. What the film does make quite clear is that Bronson enjoys prison and even refers to it as a hotel but deeply dislikes mental hospitals. Some of his more violent acts have occurred in them as a way of being transferred.

The locations used look stunning in that decaying way which I love so much. Many of the prison interiors feature chipped paint on walls, dirty floors and half collapsing buildings. It gives a real sense of neglect. The film has a slight grainy quality to it also which helps to give it an aged feel as well as heightening the look of dilapidation. Winding Refn’s direction is superb and he gets a fantastic performance from lead actor Tom Hardy. Back in 2008 this was the first Tom Hardy performance I’d seen and was completely shocked by it. Despite becoming better known and having given great performances in the likes of Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I believe this is his best role to date. He gives an acting master class as the unstable and violent prisoner. Throughout the funnier moments he manages to hold a straight faced stoicism reminiscent of Buster Keaton but during the more intensely violent sequences is as threatening and scary as anyone I’ve seen on screen. You really get the sense that Hardy inhabited the role completely and that he is Charlie Bronson. It’s shocking that his performance didn’t garner more recognition.

Something else of note here is the soundtrack which features, as you’d expect from Winding Refn, many great electro-synth songs from the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and New Order and includes a stunning song by Glass Candy called Digital Versicolor.

Bronson is a fantastically gritty, violent and funny biopic of a man who few people really know or can begin to understand. While glossing over some aspects of Bronson’s life and personality all the important pieces are there and it features one of the best acting performances I’ve seen, possibly ever.           



  1. Bronson is one of my favorite movies and the film that turned me onto Tom Hardy. He is phenomenal.

    1. You're right. He gives an incredible performance.