If not for the fact we are told 'Bronson' is based on a true story, it'd be difficult to believe such a man exists in this day and age. But there is indeed such an individual who took on the name of Charles Bronson during his very short-lived career in bare-knuckle boxing -- a small stint he did during one of the brief moments of freedom he was granted. Originally born Michael Gordon Peterson (Tom Hardy), he seems quite the character if he's anything like what we see here. In either case, Nicolas Winding Refn's film makes brilliant use of the muscular, intimidating man with a shaved head and fancy handlebar moustache, giving audiences a fascinating and oddly charming personality which we find strangely mesmerizing. Viewers may challenge themselves in searching for meaning from the absurdity, but personally, I like not knowing what to think of the craziness.
At the start, Bronson introduces himself to viewers, which moments later we learn is actually him on stage addressing a large group of spectators. He claims he wasn't always bad. Or at least not bad, bad. Then, we see several scenes of a boy with a violent rage grow into a man with a seven-year prison sentence for robbing a post office. We're not really given much of a chance to figure out when exactly he's ever been a good man. We jump right into the nitty-gritty from the get-go and watch a simple prison term turn into 34 years of Bronson's life. To his surprise (as well as ours, I'm sure), he loves the idea of incarceration and even likens the environment to a hotel resort. Several fights and hostage situations later -- most famously the 2-day riot at Broadmoor Hospital -- his original verdict is extended and a majority of his life is spent in solitary confinement.
'Bronson' is a strange brew of the shockingly humorous because it is so unbelievably outrageous and the horrifically violent because Charlie really loves a good fight. Refn constructs a surreal vision of a life without purpose, one which cannot easily be classified or understood. Refn's script never ventures into searching for justification or a rationale for Charlie's behavior. The guy just is who he is. His middle-class background doesn't offer any clues, so we don't spend much time examining his childhood. Charlie is a man of reaction and lives in the moment, never really thinking about the consequences or outcomes. The stylish direction, along with the gritty, unflattering photography of Larry Smith, only amplifies the temperament of this aimless existence, and it looks terrific, with many sequences leaving a lasting impression. I don't know if I can listen to Pet Shop Boys again without laughing.
The young Tom Hardy ('Star Trek: Nemesis,' 'Layer Cake,' 'Band of Brothers') stars in the title role, and what he brings to the film is remarkable and astonishing. The last couple of films I've watched ('The Damned United,' 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans') were ones that depended tremendously on a single performance, and they both do so admirably. But Hardy's is unique in that he genuinely has us believing in him and actually in awe of a person so far from our sense of normalcy. The man is not only violent and often hysterically ferocious, but he is also somewhat demented and the least bit masochistic. He does what he does purely for the sake of fighting, which always results in a great deal of physical pain. There is no rhyme or reason, and it doesn't seem like he's looking to win either. He simply wants to brawl. And the fact that Tom Hardy makes this character likeable speaks volumes of his talent and genius.
While his ethics and mental health are questionable throughout, Charlie Bronson does live by some moral principles. The man loves his parents, and he's never killed another human being. At some point, we're even given a glimpse of a hopeless romantic as well as an artist. Clearly, the filmmakers have taken great liberty with real-life events to create this bizarre psychotropic vision of Britain's most dangerous and violent inmate. But it's all done partly for dramatic effect and to express a certain kind of truth within the narrative that's utterly fascinating. It also might explain my sheer enjoyment of the film, the reason for it making me laugh while at the same time shaking my head that much of what is seen on screen were ever possible. Sometimes, there are people out there we can never, and probably never will, figure out, no matter how much time we spend with them.
As far as I can gather, this is a straightforward portrait of a man who can't easily be pinned down or at least refuses to ever be so. Charles Bronson exists within the margins of normality, the far reaches of conventional thinking and understanding. He is only a small skip away from being labeled insane. And the film portrays this state of being terrifically, relishing every moment much like Charlie himself. What the filmmakers have created is an extraordinary fiction out of reality without apology or an attempt to comprehend its star attraction. To do as much would be the real crime in this entertainingly stylish tragedy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Bronson' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment with a Region Free BD50 disc and housed in the standard blue keepcase. At the start of the disc, viewers get to "enjoy" a series of previews before the usual menu of options shows on screen.
Charlie Bronson makes his high-definition debut with a highly-stylized 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that's somewhat difficult to assess but likely works as a complement to the main character's coarse personality.
The picture is awash with a mostly-stable and heavy grain structure, giving the film a rough, gritty texture. The palette is mainly made up of secondary hues, but the few visible primaries are rendered nicely, especially red for the bloody fight scenes. Contrast is on the weaker end of the grayscale with blown-out highlights that often take away from the finer details. Brightness levels are hardly ever consistent and on a few occasions appear accurate. Many interiors show harsh blacks which ruin background info in the shadows. The video displays some good clarity and definition, but it's often poorly resolved with a bit of noise in a handful of sequences and generally softer than expected for a newer release. In the end, the video suits the subject matter well, and the encode looks as good as its source allows on Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray also arrives with an adequate and fairly good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The front soundstage displays a satisfying acoustical presence and squeaky-clean fidelity. Imaging is quite engaging and often spacious while bass response is sturdy and weighty, notably during action sequences. Being a dialogue-driven film, emphasis is placed on character interaction and the several monologues from Charlie Bronson. And it's all clear and intelligible throughout. Surround speakers are mostly silent as many discrete effects are located in the front, but song selections enhance the soundfield and offer a few moments of fun excitement. Overall, it's an enjoyable audio presentation for a stylish drama.
Magnolia Home Entertainment brings 'Bronson' to Blu-ray with a decent supplemental package. While the material is interesting and appreciated, it still would have been nice to have something special only on Michael Gordon Peterson, aka Charles Bronson. An audio commentary would have been good too. But it is what it is.
Nicolas Winding Refn directs 'Bronson,' a very cool drama about a very unique individual, and Larry Smith's photography complements the very unusual narrative. With the talented Tom Hardy in the title role, the film not only captures Charles Bronson's unpredictable personality but also expresses a sense of his irrationality as something which can't be understood. This Blu-ray edition of 'Bronson' arrives with a look that seems to accurately reflect the character's gritty lifestyle, but it doesn't make much of an impression in terms of picture quality. The audio is better than the video, and the bonus material is decent enough. If you haven't already, give 'Bronson' a rent. You might find yourself really liking it.