Hidden Netflix Gems: ‘Bronson’

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bronson” (2008)

“My name’s Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.” That’s the opening line of Nicholas Winding Refn’s fictionalized biopic “Bronson,” starring Tom Hardy as the titular character, a man who the press often refers to as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” You may be familiar with Winding Refn’s best known work, 2011’s “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, and recognize Hardy as the guy who played identity thief Eames in “Inception” and most recently appeared as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” While those two pictures might be better films, I don’t think Hardy as ever put in a better performance than he did in “Bronson.”

Charles Bronson is not as well known stateside as he is across the pond. In the UK, the man is something of a national celebrity, both famous and infamous for spending the majority of his adult life in solitary confinement (28 of his 34 years in prison). Bronson was first incarcerated in 1974, at age 22, after being handed a seven-year sentence for armed robbery (of just  £26.18) from a suburban English post office. That seven years quickly became 14 as a result of his starting various fights and hostage situations involving guards and fellow prisoners. Bronson was released in 1988, but spent just 69 days on the outside (during which he began a “career” as a bare-knuckle boxer) before being arrested again. He’s been in prison ever since and his antics haven’t ceased.

Part of Hardy’s preparation for the role came from phone conversations with the man himself. In interviews discussing these interactions, you can see what makes the performance so special. In this clip, Hardy re-enacts a conversation he had with Bronson regarding a recent break-up. It’s one man sitting on a couch, but Hardy’s impression is so good it’s almost as if the camera is cutting back and forth between the actor and his subject (see the full interview here).

The film, which has been certified fresh and sits at 77 percent on the Tomatometer, is a clear homage to “A Clockwork Orange” (for reasons beyond the plethora of ultraviolence). “Bronson” begins with and includes many scenes of Hardy speaking into the camera and addressing the audience directly. The move allows the film to break the fourth wall, but also includes its own in-universe explanation: Bronson is performing a one-man play, narrating his life to a theater audience (sometimes while dressed in clown make-up). Alternatively (and more likely), he’s just imagining that’s the case, because in his mind, Charles Bronson is the most famous, best-loved man in the universe. The film is a biopic, but it’s highly fictionalized. It’s less about telling Bronson’s life story as it happened and more a character study. When the film’s events break from reality, it can be explained away by the fact that we’re getting Bronson’s version of the story. There’s no mendacious play at objectivity. Rather, we’re allowed to understand and perceive Bronson’s reality, for however brief a time, and thus try to figure out if Charles Bronson is really a crazy person or just far more sane than the rest of us. Either way, the answer might surprise you, and then being surprised might surprise you.

As mentioned, the thing that really separates this film from the pack is Hardy’s performance. He perfectly captures the comedic delirium that is being Charles Bronson. Frankly, I’m glad I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” first, because Tom Hardy and Charles Bronson were one and the same in my mind for a few days after watching this movie. I’m not sure how seriously I could have taken Bane after seeing Bronson/Hardy strip down and command a kidnapped guard to rub him down with grease, all the while yelling “Put on my armor! Everywhere, get it everywhere! Put some on my ass. Not in my ass ya faggot!” as the guard whimpers. To me and you it sounds like insanity, and it is, but for the 92 minutes “Bronson” is running, it’s his world, and we’re all just living in it.

 Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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