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Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner

Tom Hardy as

Credit: Magnet Releasing

Above: Tom Hardy as "Bronson."


The KPBS Film Club of the Air discusses the film "Bronson."


“Britain's most violent prisoner” is the subject of the new film “Bronson” (opening October 23 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema). You can also listen to our discussion on the KPBS Film Club.

“Bronson” opens with the title character, Michael Gordon Peterson proclaiming that he wants to be famous. His hunger for celebrity, at least in part, led him to legally change his name to that of action star Charles Bronson. At the film's London premiere there was a recording by inmate Charles Bronson, in which he stated: "I'm proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on. I make no bones about it, I really was... a horrible, violent, nasty man. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed of it either... See you at the Oscars."

Well Bronson may not make the Oscars but actor Tom Hardy just might. Hardy plays Bronson with such ferocity and single-mindedness that it’s both riveting and frightening. With his shaved head and pumped up physique, Hardy presents an intimidating figure even to the armed guards. Hardy’s Bronson is a man who loves to fight and he’s game to take on all comers no matter what the costs. He’s imprisoned for seven years after taking a few bob from a post office but once in prison he seems to be in his element. His seven year stay extends to more than three decades, a chunk of which was in solitary confinement. The term kept getting extended because he kept getting into fights in prison. He strips down and greases up in order to take on guards that he taunts, attacks and then is beaten up by. He gives no real reason for the fury that drives him but it does drive him.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Magnet Releasing


Writer-director Nicholas Winding Refn crafts a fascinating portrait of Bronson and endows the story with a certain operatic grandeur. He films Hardy’s Bronson on a stage narrating and explaining his own life in dramatic terms. Refn’s slow motion tracking shots cut to an epic music score prove mesmerizing. The mix of shot selection, score, and violence call to mind Stanley Kubrick’s work in “A Clockwork Orange.” And Bronson’s inability to control himself gives the film a potent, animalistic energy. As Bronson, Hardy stalks his prey like some hulking beast that doesn’t know how to do anything else.

Neither Refn nor Bronson himself try to look below the surface for a deeper understanding of Bronson’s behavior. The film offers him up and asks that you take him as he is. There’s no real moral judgment made here, just a fascinating and ultimately sad portrait of a violent man.

“Bronson” is rated R for violent and disturbing content, graphic nudity, sexuality and language.

Companion viewing: “Death Wish,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Sexy Beast”

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