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Film Review: Bronson

Benjamin Walker
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PARK CITY -- Anyone who still thinks of British films as genteel will certainly have a rude awakening while watching "Bronson," which is one of the films competing in the world dramatic category at Sundance. This ultra-violent fantasia based on the life of a real thug who spent 34 years in prison may be embraced by some critics who admired the previous movies of the director, Nicolas Winding Refn ("Pusher," "Fear X.") But this picture is too punishing to attract any kind of audience.

Refn and co-writer Brock Norman Brock have no interest in creating a docudrama about Charlie Bronson, who was actually born Michael Peterson but took the name of one of his favorite tough-guy movie stars. This is a stylized piece that includes scenes of Charlie (Tom Hardy) performing a vaudeville show, sometimes in heavy makeup. In one (too-brief) interlude, the director even introduces animation to illustrate some of the character's fantasies.

As a young man Peterson robbed a post office and was sentenced to seven years in prison, but his time behind bars kept getting extended because of his brutality while on the yard. Don't look to the film for any kind of psychological or sociological explanation. He seems to have an overindulgent mother, but that hardly would account for his behavior. Actually, the film has one simple point to make: Charlie wants to be famous, and making a name for himself through extreme violence is the only way he can accomplish that dream. Needless to say, this critique of our deranged culture of celebrity is pretty old news by now and hardly justifies all the scenes of lovingly photographed gore.

Hardy gives an utterly convincing performance, and as a piece of filmmaking, "Bronson" is undeniably well shot and well edited. The arresting music selections range from Wagner to Pet Shop Boys. Despite the artistic flourishes, this is still an utterly repellent look at a psychopath who does not deserve the attention of the filmmakers or the audience.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production: Vertigo Films, 4DH Films
Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Kelly Adams, Amanda Burton
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Nicolas Winding Refn
Producers: Rupert Preston, Danny Hansford
Director of photography: Larry Smith
Production designer: Adrian Smith
Music supervisor: Lol Hammond
Costume designer: Sian Jenkins
Editor: Mat Newman
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
No rating, 92 minutes