Violence in movies is a tricky beast to tame. We as a society are constantly trying to tell people that violence never solves anything, and yet in film violence is often the logical outcome and necessary tool by which conflict is resolved. Violence is always something arrived at, something needed, something that happens because nothing else will work. It is very rare that a film look at violence not as an end, or even a means to an end, but as a way of life. Outside of movies about boxing or war (which very rarely look at violence as a choice, but as a necessity) we never see someone who thinks of violence as their life. Even serial killers only use violence as a means to fulfill some other impulse – revenge, delirium, hatred.
This is what makes your story, that of notorious British prisoner Charlie Bronson, so unique. Through your direction, script, and most notably your acting, you deliver the story of violence as talent, as art, as a sole means of expression. Every aspect of you denies the usual tropes that violence is an impulse to be channeled or a sickness to be cured. Bronson knows himself, and you, Bronson, know Bronson. In fact, you know him well enough to not only tell his story perfectly, but to do so with the kind of black humor that films rarely trust an audience to handle.
So who is Bronson? He’s a two-bit thief who went to jail for knocking over a post office. He’s a man in search of fame and glory, but with no means by which to achieve it. He is an egomaniac with no talent except the ability to take and deliver a lot of punishment. And so that is what he does – he begins a lifelong campaign of violent action, of beatings and assaults, that will take him from being a nobody to achieving the status of notoriety he feels he deserves. Not by turning his violence into a career of boxing or soldiering, but through simply being violent.
And he knows it. Very rarely are men like this treated with a kind of fairness or self-awareness in film. We’re so afraid of violence, we flinch so strongly from the human impulses toward viciousness, that films rarely allow for a character to know the reasons behind their own violence. Often we try to explain their predilections away with stories about their bad childhood, their lack of education, or some other comfortable reasoning. Rarely are men of violence allowed to simply be violent, or to know their own self deeply enough to accept their violence.
Bronson not only accepts it, he embraces it and turns it into his livelihood. When he spends time talking about the prisons he has been to, he isn’t talking about punishments, he is talking about arenas, art spaces, places where he is free to perform. Even when he gets out, or finds other things he is good at, he always returns to the violence, because that is where his passion and heart resides and thrives.
The way in which you introduce and explore this story and this character create the perfect vessel with which to deliver this information to an audience. The narrative engine that drives you involves Bronson standing on a stage before a group of well-dressed men and women, delivering a monologue regarding his existence, mugging and performing his heart out. Every moment of his life is delivered through his eyes, in his voice, as he sees fit to deliver it. As such, the events in his life are both more probably lies, but also more honest representations of how he saw them. It’s a brilliant and entertaining mode of telling the typical biopic in a way that transcends and comments on the genre.
Tom Hardy brings Bronson to life in every one of your scenes with the kind of effortlessness and physicality that all great performances are made from. He isn’t just delivering words or gestures, he is vibrating with the sheer intensity of Bronson’s barely contained violence. He twitches while being still and walks as though the act of moving in a nominally normal way will never seem normal to him. The alien nature of this man is portrayed flawlessly, and it is really this performance that draws in and holds an audience’s attention.
Your music, directing, and camerawork all aid in creating an air of powerful evocation that likewise ensnares one’s attention, which is no surprise seeing as you are directed by Nicholas Winding Rfens. This is a director who believes in tone and intimation over exposition, and through his deft craftsmanship the full brunt of your story is beautifully delivered.
Which explains why you are so funny. With all of the vulgarity and violence and crime you wallow in it is no small miracle that you manage to be an insanely watchable, entertaining, and hilarious film. You work a strange magic, finding the inherent comedy in a man who so clearly does not fit in to society, has no way of interacting with people on a normal level, and who rejects every attempt to aid him in these failings. Most hilarious of all, though? At the end, when he has been beaten, abused, jailed and confined, he is at his most happy. He has made it. In his eyes, he is a hero, a star, and so what if the audience in his self-delusion isn’t laughing with him? At least they are watching him.
Much the same as I am sure I will watch you once more.
Amused and entertained,
Brian J. Roan