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'Bronson' strikes chord, leaves 'the goods' at home

By Noah Redfield , Staff Writer

Ever wonder what would happen if Jeffrey Dahmer could sing? Or if Ed Gein could juggle? Or if Adolf Hitler could paint? The notion of violent psychopaths getting the opportunity to express themselves has been done in the past, but Nicolas Winding-Refn's film "Bronson," takes it a step further and literally turns this particular lunatic into a living, breathing art project.

Tom Hardy plays British prisoner Charles Bronson, (Not to be confused with the actor) best known for the fact that he has spent most of his adult life in jail cells. Why? Because he can't help but raise hell every time he steps outside of a prison cell, so despite the fact that he is serving a life sentence for holding up a post office in the 1970s, Bronson's extreme sentence seems more than justified. If, of course, the events depicted in the film are true.

But the line between fantasy and reality is blurred right from the start with Bronson delivering one chilling monologue after another. Sometimes he addresses the camera directly while other times he performs in front of an audience donning clown make-up and occasionally miming to music. In the end, Winding-Refn hasn't made a film about the story of Bronson at all. He has made a film about the idea of Bronson.

The film owes more than a visual debt to Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," perhaps the most revered example of a filmmaker using extreme methods to explore the mind of a madman and his mad surroundings. A more apt comparison can be made to "Chopper," the underrated Australian crime drama in which Eric Bana plays a real-life convict who turned himself into a pulp novelist with his embellished tales of life as "a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture." Except Bronson isn't as oddly charismatic as Chopper. In fact, as played by Hardy, he is nothing short of terrifying. It's like watching a bipolar bull stalk around a cage without any means of predicting his next move, let alone stopping it.

With Winding-Refn's visceral direction and Hardy's menacing performance in place, the question turns to what the film actually says about Bronson and his perpetual incarceration. I know that he is still in prison without hope for parole, something that helps me sleep easier despite the ocean that separates us, but otherwise the answer is not very much. As a British film, it seems to rely on the audience already knowing who the man is as well as some of his more infamous moments behind bars. Given the fact that this premise has been explored several times before, a new spin on it is essential if one is going to devote 90 minutes of his/her life to this character. In this respect, "Bronson" doesn't deliver the goods, which is especially unfortunate since Winding-Refn so badly wants to follow in the footsteps of Kubrick (an admirable goal, it must be said.) Alas, this isn't a new "Clockwork Orange" despite what the poster says. It isn't even a new "Chopper."

But I still have to recommend the film. Some will be put off by its nihilistic violence and its refusal to judge the main character, but as a tonal piece about the blending of art and carnage with an astonishing display of acting at the center by Mr. Hardy, it is still far and away one of the most interesting films in cinemas at the moment.

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