Charles Bronson is the stagename for infamous career prisoner Michael Peterson, a name taken after Peterson starts out in the world of underground boxing. Bronson is the pseudo autobiographical film helmed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Tom Hardy is the man that stars in the lead role and does it really well. It’s a highly theatrical film, replete with the lead actor playing narrator in facepaint.

The show starts out with Bronson facing an audience and telling them his story sequentially, from his birth til he reaches adulthood and his unlikely fall into criminal behaviour. There’s really no reason for it. He just likes to fight. He robs a post office and gets himself 7 years in jail and from there, picks a fight with anyone he wants and moves from prison to prison and then a mental hospital before getting released because he’s too expensive to keep in jail. He gets involved in some boxing but falls for a girl, steals a ring and ends up back in jail. At one point he laments that he’s spent 30 or so years in the prison system and he hasn’t killed a single person. Back in jail, he keeps fighting the guards but eventually winds up in art class, gets his art teacher interested in his work, beats his art teacher up, ties him to a pole and paints his face. He’s naked but painted black and wearing gold framed sunglasses and a bowler hat whilst doing this. There’s a certain Clockwork Orange-ness mixed up with Magritte, who’s gets referenced just a moment earlier.

The film style is somewhat surrealist/absurdist. It plays on the hyper violence by having electro pop/classical tunes playing in the background. So you got the Pet Shop Boys and New Order or something from Madame Butterfly whilst he’s pummeling prison guards or screaming fuck you cunt or whatever. It works quite well stylistically. There’s also a heavy homo-eroticism in the film with a few very gay characters seeming to take a liking to the muscley and mustachioed Bronson which works to contrast with the macho man image of the main character.

However, the character just feels a little empty. He’s an excessively violent sociopath who doesn’t have much raison d’etre. I suppose that’s probably the main criticism for the film, that it lacks substance. Not that a film needs to have great meaning but just that Bronson seems a little uninteresting beyond the nice framing and music and the cinematography and Hardy’s twitching between hyperviolence and prim and proper. Despite the hardline outer masculinity of Bronson, you can still see the child within him, uninformed and naive and ultimately a little dull.

Still got some interesting scenes though.