Here we have a British prison film about the U.K.'s most famous prisoner, Michael Peterson, who's violent incarceration is so revulsive that it can constitute a horror film if only it didn't lack the catharsis of one.
Tom Hardy, stars as Peterson, in a career making performance, that is equally matched by the film's brutal style. Both are getting strong word of mouth but don't let that trick you onto the bandwagon. Despite Hardy's exemplary performance and director Nicolas Winding Refn's well executed style, the film lacks a quality that can only be described as a good time at the movies. It's a great film, but a joyless movie.
Bronson chronicles Peterson's life, mostly spent in confinement. After a failed armed robbery in 1974, he gets caught and sentenced to 7 years though his sentence keeps getting extended for what can euphemistically be described as bad behavior.
It's a tough film to watch, no doubt, so I guess that says something. It's certainly an experience. Gritty as hell but with a heightened sense of reality serving as a last layer of protection, saving us from vicariously experiencing the deepest level of Peterson's tortured existence, the safety line dips us in just long enough to get repulsed by him and his prison existence, not developing him enough to earn him our sympathy, although that may have been the intention.
Bronson proves that when dealing with an unlikable protagonist, while they should always be interesting, that isn't always enough as some degree of sympathy is necessary to keep us wanting to watch their story. Although the main character lacks our sympathy, it's an effective film. The audience's buttons get pushed and we successfully get revulsed with it, that revulsion getting translated into acclaim for the film, despite its joyless quality.
If you get dragged into seeing this film by the strong word of mouth, great. If you see it because you try to watch everything, definitely catch it; it shouldn't be missed. If you go see it to participate in the conversation, to see what everyone else is or will be talking about, that's just about as good a reason as any, but if you go see the film for one of the very basic reasons people go to the movies, escapism, you will be deprived, at least until it finally cuts to the end credits.
Rated R. 92 minutes. A Magnet Release. Written by Brock Norman Brock & Nicolas Winding Refn, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Produced by Rupert Preston & Danny Hansford. Photographed by Larry Smith, BSC. Edited by Mat Newman.