The story of Bronson is a fascinating one, it focuses on a man who has lived most of his life in prison, and in solitary confinement, for crimes that could well raise the argument of whether prison does indeed cultivate violence and breed criminals, or whether violence is built into the person.
However because of violent attacks and his role in various prison riots, his sentence has been extended again and again, until in February of 2000, he was jailed again for life, for taking a prison teacher hostage for more than forty-four hours and threatening him at knife point.
The film shows how he began his time in prison and explores his life in what would appear to be a somewhat detached way, however at times it's clear that it does become a little sympathetic to the real Charles Bronson. Still it's hard not to be considering the way society has treated him, despite his crimes, with total dispassion.
Bronson is a bit of an eye opener to watch, not only does it give you the shocking story of the man himself, but it reveals a lot about the British justice system and at the same time delivers a film with bags of cinematic style and a a rather unusual view of the way the story plays out.
The director has poured bags of style into the film, with a rather surrealistic view taken of Bronson's life. At times I felt this harmed the overall message from the story and clouded the facts behind the case, but at the same time it made it more of a feature film and less of a documentary or simple retelling of the story, and having watched the film that's something I'm really glad of.
The stylistic choices made in the film are sometimes a little strange and do make you wonder what is true and what is not. From my point of view I would have liked it made very clear the true aspects behind this man's life and what exactly happened. It's surprising because the truth is a quite a bit harsher on the man, but the message comes out even stronger – was his violence made even worse by the way he was treated in prison and by society, or would he have been able to have been rehabilitated and return to society at some point?
However stylised the film appears, you do get the feeling that most of the narrative is generally true, and after the film has passed by, the hard facts are that the man has been in prison for thirty-four and a half years for a single case of armed robbery when he was just seventeen, and for his continued violent outbursts, attacks, riots and hostage taking since.
There's been a lot said about the violence in the film, some of it rather negative and I think somewhat overly harsh. The film portrays Bronson as violent man, holding a difficult temper and quick to react to the way he's treated. The actual scenes of violence don't go over the top and they never really portray the violence in a way that so many other entertainment films do. Here it is harsh and gritty, but it never feels lingering and for entertainment sake.
I did think that it clearly presented Bronson's violence against the guards as a deliberate move to force their hand and to make them continually deal with him in some way, yet there's the unanswered question that comes through of whether or not the violence is for attention or just for the sake of violence.
I do like the fact these questions do come through, rather than just abandoning it in favour of entertainment and the director's style choices, but I do wish there had been more impact around some of the messages, particularly reinforcing the idea that he's been imprisoned for so long, just how bad his conditions really are, and that he's now claiming to be a reformed character.
At the same time it doesn't portray a completely rose-tinted view of the character. We aren't shown someone wronged by the British justice system who is now just misunderstood, etc. It shows his anger, his capability for extreme violence and indeed his desire for it. This is presented bare for the audience, and we get to see some stunning examples of exactly what he did and was capable of.
However, having read some of the facts of the man's life, his time in prison, and of the crimes that have kept him there, I do look back on this film and wonder if he's perhaps presented in a little too much of a sympathetic light at certain times, especially during the hostage taking scene.
I did feel that the film could be edited down somewhat, there were times when I was wondering where the story was going and what was coming next, a good place to be if this was a thriller, but it felt a little too loose at times and occasionally left me hanging in the story. A sharper edit might have cleared up many of these issues.
The imagery is excellent, and the director's vision together with the cinematography delivers something that looks a little surreal, at times feeling slightly more akin to A Clockwork Orange in style.
One of the key reasons for the attraction to this film is the performance by Tom Hardy, he is utterly fascinating in the role, and he's totally immersed in the character. His performance is the main draw of the film and does obscure just about everything else about the film, that's not to say that everything else is bad, it's just that Hardy's performance is just so good.
This is one of those performances that you would say is Oscar worthy, and that's not an exaggeration. Playing Bronson Hardy has shown what a superb actor he is and the roles should be pouring in at this point.
The first thing that you notice about the film, stylistic choice or not, the picture doesn't hold up well on Blu-ray. I've seen films that make such choices and present their pictures in grainy footage but these are often sequences in the film and in other scenes the Blu-ray is made good use of. Here though it is grainy and textured, perhaps for the period in which the film is set, but it didn't necessarily warrant a Blu-ray release for the picture alone.
Dolby True HD, LPCM Stereo
There's a great use of sound in the film, and this is where the Blu-ray is made full use of. For a strong example of this you need only watch the two-on-one fight in the barn to really feel it. Music plays an interesting part and a strong role in the film too, although sometimes it feels slightly at odds with the story and seems to drown it out a little.
Audio Commentary, Making of featurette, Charles Bronson Audio Introduction, Tom Hardy: Building the Body featurette
Audio Commentary: Alan Jones and Nicolas Winding Refn
The commentary is a mine of information, and the discussion between Jones and Refn is lively and intelligent, covering a lot about the film, the story, the actors and the real Charles Bronson. It's a superb commentary to watch along with the film and does go a long way to explaining many of the choices made in the film that maybe set it apart from the real life story.
Making of featurette
This featurette is just as interesting as the commentary and there's plenty given from Tom Hardy and Nicolas Winding Refn, above the average making of.
Charles Bronson Audio Introduction
Although the audio introduction is very hard to hear but is a revelation to hear from the man himself and to hear a little about his mindset, what his current condition is, and what he thought of the film.
Building the Body featurette
There's just not enough of this featurette that sees Tom Hardy and his trainer talking about how they built him up for the part and talking about what it takes to build the body. It's interesting but for me, a one time body builder for a few years, it doesn't go into it enough and seeing just a few of his exercises is nothing compared what we could have seen with a full workout. Still, it's a good little insight into the work he had to go through for the realism.