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Wednesday, Oct 28 2009
The inmate who renamed himself after a Hollywood action star has been incarcerated for all but a few months of the past 34 years—30 of them spent in solitary—having strategically attacked a succession of guards, attendants, and fellow inmates to parlay his initial seven-year sentence for armed robbery into a lifelong role as “Britain’s most violent prisoner.” The first thing Bronson tells us, in direct address in Nicholas Winding Refn's demented Bronson, is that “all my life, I wanted to be famous.” Cut to the mad dog wannabe (played with insane brio by Tom Hardy) in his cell. With his shaved head, handlebar mustache, and mighty physique, Hardy’s Bronson resembles a sideshow strongman—he's also the ringmaster and clown in the brawling three-ring circus that is Refn’s movie. Bronson goes from prison to mental hospital to a few weeks of freedom, working as an extreme boxer, until another robbery lands him back in the slammer. There, he abruptly reveals a talent for drawing cartoons. But pugnacity remains the source of his celebrity. He repeatedly traps unwary guards so as to ensure that he’ll get the shit kicked out of him once more. Well received in the U.K., Bronson was bracketed with Steve McQueen’s Hunger, another quite different and more seriously visceral tale of a self-promoting prisoner. Bronson is lighter fare, but harder to watch—assaulting us with its over-bright palette and pop-eyed perkiness. The kernel of an idea—brutish antihero as irrepressible life force—is trampled into dust by Refn’s showy filmmaking.
Starts: Oct. 30. Daily, 2009

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J. Hoberman


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