Great, Inescapable Bronson

10/07/2009 4:00 AM |


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Prison was, honestly, brilliant.” Jailed for a two-bit robbery, then piling on sentences for in-house offenses, Brit tabloid star Charles Bronson (born Michael Peterson) turned life into one long mosh-pit grandstand. Admiring Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (the Pusher trilogy) responds with a brash, semi-fictionalized pastiche that’s like an extended version of a seriocomic rise-of-a-hoodlum montage, but with interludes for Bronson’s irreducible contradictions. An extremely appealing Tom Hardy stars as the muscle-bound walrus-mustached rebel, who spends half his time starting scraps or (effectively) performance-art pieces (cf. Hunger), triumphing repeatedly… by being dragged away by ten men.

Refn’s treatment of “Britain’s most violent prisoner” embraces both his winning, nutty bravado and his confusion. Bronson somehow avoids the emptiness of either sociopath portraits that make a cliche of inscrutable menace, or biopics about how someone’s life was all performance. Ludicrous, pitying, often hilarious, and itself nuttily insistent, the movie moves between laddish stagecraft and purposely dim self-awareness. And things get good and weird when Bronson takes an art teacher (confidently oblivious in the Strangers with Candy mold) hostage, or during Bronson’s one-man-show fantasies, holding forth to a captive audience in a neat theater.
Shot by Larry Smith and heavily soundtracked, the film doesn’t even visualize Bronson’s most spectacular outrages, though much is made of his brief time on the outside, wooing and cringing in vest and suit. Reveling in one man’s obscure code of resistance and bombast, Bronson is one strange hit-and-run experience.

Opens October 9