BRONSON, as of late October, 2017, is still in prison, where he has spent 41 of his 64 years, most in solitary. Watch Tom Hardy’s astounding portrayal of the title brute in this 2008 biopic and you’ll not only see why but can renew your faith in concrete, iron bars and steel doors.
Wildly creative direction and profane but clever writing from Nicholas Winding Refn unleash the angry pit bull (and wicked black humor) that imposing 31-year-old fast riser Tom Hardy pulled from his tool box in 2008 to play—no, utterly inhabit—the notorious Michael Gordon Peterson, who went to prison at 19 back in 1974 and managed by being unmanageable to lengthen his stays on up to the time you read this.
Changing his name to mimic movie tough guy Charles Bronson, this bloke was/is someone you’d never want to get closer to than the whiplash 92 minutes of this movie, wherever he is or whatever he wishes to call himself (he re-changed his moniker, first to Charles Ali Ahmed,then to his current Charles Arthur Salvador). Naturally, given the upside down scheme of things in the crazy world of crazed prisoners, he developed latent artistic talent, found celebrity, garnered bleeding heart petitions for release and spellbound some foolish woman who wishes to marry him.
Taking acceptable dramatic liberty (some name changes, condensing chronology), Wefn and co-writer Brock Norman Brock make a surrealist tableau of incident and image that is both tough to watch and impossible to look away from, superbly photographed (Larry Smith), edited (Matthew Newman) and scored (Johnny Jewel).
While all elements focus their skill, everything is dominated by Hardy’s astonishing submersion into this role, attacked with nearly unparalleled intensity: deeply smart, fiendishly funny and ferocious as a disturbed nest of Asian giant hornets—it’s a real injustice that he wasn’t at least nominated for an Oscar. *
Best in the supporting cast is Matt King, funny/creepy as Bronson’s fellow con and bare-knuckle boxing promoter, based on one of the infamous, equally notorious Kray twins. With James Lance, Jonathan Phillips, Kelly Adams and Amanda Burton. The in-your-face production only cost $230,000 to ruck up, and grossed $2,261,000 internationally (just $105,000 from the States, where it only played in ten theaters).
* Had he been up, Hardy would have had strong competition from Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Richard Jenkins for The Visitor, both career-highs. Two more of the nominees were quite good, Brad Pitt as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon. The winner was Sean Penn for Milk. Whatever: I’d easily spill that bowl (Penn’s look-at-our-industry’s-advanced-consciousness gimme) and let Hardy’s caged honey badger drink the milkshake. Remember Malcolm McDowell’s ‘Alex’ in A Clockwork Orange? Hardy’s Charlie Bronson would eat that droog like a pop tart.