Tom Hardy gives a stunning performance as one of Britain’s most infamous criminals, but unfortunately the film as a whole is an unremittingly nasty and pretentious biopic. Unconventionally told with as much charm as a festering corpse, this is potentially dangerous stuff, depicting unforgivably violent and horrifying scenes in a glamorous, humorous and non-judgemental way.
It’s a self-indulgent, complacent and too-arty-for-its-own-good joyride into Hardy’s psyche. It fails to tell us anything remotely interesting about eponymous subject Charles Bronson, and serves as a cold reminder of how easy it is for biographical films to fall in love with their subject. Director Nicolas Winding Refn is guilty of helping to fulfil Bronson’s self-confessed wish: to be famous: at the very start of the movie, Bronson (an impressively bulked-up Tom Hardy) says “I am Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous”.
The movie comes across as an advert for Bronson’s fighting skills, with classical music dubbed over the top of some particularly horrible scenes. Needless to say, this endeavour to make the violent moments mean more than what they are (mere on-screen brutality) is not successful. Yet, bafflingly, people still saw fit to heap praise on it when it was released in cinemas. One usually respectable publication at the time of the film’s release even commended it for being “funny”. This leaves me speechless.
As a country we are very good at self-flagellation, and often celebrate the worst things about our nation. We make grim films, then feel cultured for sitting through them. It’s as if being made depressed by a film is the mark of a masterpiece. It is not. Films don’t always have to be happy experiences, but this film revels in its own unpleasantness, and asks us to enjoy the deplorable acts Bronson commits. It is hard to understand why someone would want to see something this cruel, abhorrent and downright revolting. But, of course, there has always been a market for tasteless nonsense.
Bronson (2008) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is available on DVD and Blu-ray from E1 Entertainment, certificate 18. Prospective viewers may wish to read the consumer advice from the British Board of Film Classification before watching the film.