Bronson (2009) Movie Review
Beautiful Dirty Violence
This movie is filthy. At one point, a bit-part character poops in his own hand (incredible special effects! [please please please let it be not real!]) and begins to paint his face with the pulpy murk. We literally watch it fall from his backside into his awaiting, cupped palm. There are no cuts, no edits, but I can’t believe the actor would actually shit in his hand and put it on his face.
He probably did though.
Because insanity takes passion & dedication. Tom Hardy is amazing in everything he does, but he’s also a complete nut job. He seems to regularly clash with collaborators on set while simultaneously turning in top tier talent. So who better to portray a man who liked to smear his naked body in soap and incite a beat down by prison guards?
These bonkers brawls breakout twice in the film: first in a jail cell while holding a guard hostage, forcing the cowering cop to rub him down with the aforementioned soap. The second time he covers himself in greasepaint while pestering a fellow inmate in the art room of a loony bin, then sends in the guards who pummel him to a pulp. While it was not the titular Bronson who made a facial mask out of fresh dookie, I feel like an assumption could be made about soap, greasepaint, and artistic license.
Quick moments of exciting bare knuckle boxing pepper the movie, and they don’t shy away from the nasty grittiness of incarceration, but this is a beautifully artistic independent movie that is able to be both immensely grand & intimately lonely. It made me squirm uncomfortably when Hardy spits & snots & gurgles in a drugged out stupor, or when the fleshy flap of his cracked & bloodied chin pokes through the window of his prison cage (not “cell,” but “cage”). Incredibly, the director (Nicolas Winding Refn, of the much lauded Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive) is able to create poetically pretty images of insanity to counter & intensify some of the violence & horror.
The main mechanic of narration comes in the form of Bronson’s imagination while isolated in solitary confinement. Presented center stage in a crowded auditorium, the bald, mustachioed Bronson goes through a series of monologues, with an array of different costumes & clown makeup. This helps us get into the mind of a man who doesn’t do much talking, as well as link the chaotic vignettes of violence into a semi-cohesive story.
Does this movie glorify violence? I don’t know. I definitely cheered every time someone got punched, but I think that says more about me than the movie. I think this movie is important because its purpose is to ask the question: what do we do with crazy people? What do we do with Britain’s most violent prisoner? And the movie doesn’t exactly answer that question, but it really makes you face it.
We’re never specifically told what kind of madness Bronson has, nor are we given a reason for his constant desire to fight. He was a rowdy kid who grew into a rowdy adult, but he is able to create relationships with a couple women and a few “friends” so he’s not incapable of social interaction. He robs a post office for which he receives a minimal prison sentence. But then he spends the next 30 out of 34 years in solitary confinement because he seems to punch people whenever he gets the opportunity. And he never actually kills anyone (not for a lack of trying) so he is ineligible for capital punishment.
So what do we do with him? What do we do with Britain’s most expensive prisoner? Throw him in jail: he starts a riot. Isolate him: he kidnaps a guard first chance he gets. Fill him full of drugs & sedatives in a mental institution: he’ll muster enough strength to strangle a pedophile. Rehabilitation through art class: well, I think we all get the point.
I don’t have an answer, but while this movie is very entertaining, hopefully the long term impact will be a socially reformed prison system & better care for mental health.
Charles Bronson is Britain’s most famous prisoner.