Bronson (2009) dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Kelly Adams, Amanda Burton
By Alan Bacchus
One of the wildest, most idiosyncratic and uniquely cinematic films in recent memory might just be “Bronson”. Anyone familiar with Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s muscular crime films, “The Pusher Trilogy” will recognize his provocative style. Bronson’s joyous sense of anarchy stands up to the chaos of “Fight Club” and the synaptic stimulation of “Natural Born Killers”.
Michael Peterson, who coined his own alternate name, Charles Bronson, is Britain’s most famous criminal. An infamous celebrity manufactured by Bronson himself through a life of almost impossibly violent behaviour. He loves violence, loves civil disobedience, loves fighting people. He marvels at his fists like deadly weapons. From this reputation as the most violent man in Britain Bronson has been lived 30 of his 34 prison years in solitary confinement.
Refn’s brilliant film tells Bronson’s story from the fractured and fantastical point of view of Bronson himself. The film opens with the bald headed, curly-moustached man talking to a tuxedo-clad audience. This is the mind of Bronson telling the highlights of his story like a narrated three-ring circus. We see his violent working class childhood segue into his first stint in jail, his eventual release, a shortlived relationship with a woman, his stint in a mental hospital, his escape and then the rest of the bloodcurdling fights which led to his solitary incarceration.
Refn’s inspired direction has the same anarchic cinematic satirical madness of “A Clockwork Orange”. Bronson has the same addiction to violence as Clockwork’s Alex DeLarge, and like Kubrick’s movie Refn makes no apologies for aggrandizing Bronson’s reprehensible behaviour.
Refn directs the film with a language equal to the brawny self-confidence and swagger of Bronson himself. Refn uses a wild mix of music selections to compliment the muscular visuals. He uses Wagner’s dramatically gothic ‘Prelude to Parsifal' in an early prison scene just because. His bold and bass pumping synth pieces from the 80’s represent the cutting edge of the decade’s pop culture. Bronson is hip, really hip.
The film also makes no attempt to be narratively coherent, Refn moves in and out of dream sequences, advances in time without the need for explanation. Scenes exist not to move the story forward but to express Bronson's state of mind. Refn’s cinematic tools consists of bold wide angle lenses, dark and bloody textured art direction, a gritty super 16mm film format, elegant slo-motion and statuesque framing of Bronson’s posturing.
Refn’s carefree attitude to the social irresponsibility of celebrating and mythologizing the violent life of a heinous criminal adds to the film’s distinct humour. Great films push buttons, and Refn’s buttons hit hard like a solid fist to the face. Enjoy.