Meet Bronson. He’s in italics because that’s also the name of the movie. Played by Tom Hardy (of RocknRolla), Bronson is your everyday lovable Brit. He’s an artist, really. He just happens to have robbed a post office — because they’re loaded with cash? — and winds up in jail. But that’s no impediment to Bronson’s art, because he’s classically trained in the art of kicking ass. We think we’re going to like this film. It’s premiering at Sundance. Yes, that Sundance. Whatever: Dude gets naked.
Charlie Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner and the antihero of Nicolas Winding Refn’s tour de force, is a man with a calling. He just needed jail time to find it. In 1974, Charlie robs a post office and draws a seven-year sentence. But stone walls do not a prison make. His “hotel room” becomes an incubator for his art, which is violence. Taking a perverse glee in fighting, he’s sent to a mental institution, where, drugged and drooling, he still musters defiance. His eventual release is short lived, and he returns to jail. Placed in an art class, Charlie creates his masterpiece. It is not a painting. Though based on a real person, Bronson is less a biopic than a virtuosic explosion of style. With twisted imagery, the music of Wagner and Pet Shop Boys, and a stunning performance by Tom Hardy, Refn creates an aesthetic that is both complicit in Charlie’s violence but also theatrical. Charlie narrates his own story before an audience, and the movie is just an extension of this burlesque staging. Our moral compass reeling, we’re tempted to see him as an animal, but violence is simply the fullest expression of his identity. Overjoyed by his fame and ever-increasing capacity for harm, Charlie walks the cellblock beaming with pride. He has become somebody. He is–quite terrifyingly–the hero of his own story.