Some people have an innate desire to be famous. They yearn to leave a mark on the world that guarantees they will not be forgotten. Michael Peterson decided the best way to achieve his goal was to become the most famous criminal in Britain. In the biopic of his journey through the British penal system, Bronson, bare-knuckle boxer Peterson, or Charlie Bronson (Tom Hardy), fights his way to the title of most violent prisoner in Britain. There is no real concise way to characterize this movie, so we will start with the good.
Hardy is excellent. He fully embraces the role and embodies Bronson perfectly. The actual Charlie Bronson has been quoted as saying that Hardy was the only person capable of personifying his attitude and voice. The most chilling aspect of the performance is in his eyes. During the solo interview that is shown every so often throughout the film, we see a fury and lunacy that is so scary and convincing you begin to wonder about Hardy himself. Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn clearly asked Hardy to shed any sense of shame for this role due to the multiple nude scenes, odd clown/comedian show or volatile, lightning-fast mood swings. Hardy takes on each request with fervor and passion. Watching Hardy’s immersion is by far the biggest reason to watch the movie to completion. Personally, the best moments for Hardy are during Bronson’s sixty-nine days out of prison (the only days of that kind for the past thirty-four years). He is able to show the utter confusion Bronson has from normal interactions with little dialogue. Unfortunately for Bronson, Hardy is the only real bright spot.
After about twenty minutes, you will probably start to wonder what is going to happen next. Typically that is a good trait for a film, but when this question is posed with genuine confusion about the potential path of the plot, the movie might be failing. Refn takes many artistic liberties with the portrayal of Bronson’s insanity. The aforementioned clown/comedian act in the auditorium is meant to represent how Bronson felt his actions in prison were being regarded (I think. The scenes come out of nowhere and are puzzling). Oddly enough the only funny moment is when his librarian hostage is lathering Bronson in paint. The progression of Bronson from nobody to famous is only evident from the opening narrative and the constant reminding of the fact. There would be little evidence that he was actually famous, if not for these notes. Lastly, Refn makes it difficult to decipher if he is glorifying a criminal who clearly crippled many prison guards, or is simply attempting to show the thought process of a sociopath.
I would recommend it solely to watch Hardy. His machismo and eccentricity overpower the film making the rest irrelevant. Bronson will no doubt confuse and at times disturb you. Since the ending is already a given, there is no need to watch the film in its entirety, but it is shameful for a great performance to go to waste so see some to get a taste of the effort Hardy gave. Without Hardy, Bronson is a film undeserving of the fame he so greatly desired.