Sunday, December 13, 2009
Cast: Tom Hardy
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn
Runtime: 92 min.
Verdict: It is remarkable how you learn nothing yet feel everything about Charles f***in Bronson.
Michael Petersen (Mr. Hardy), after earning the moniker “Her Majesty’s Most Expensive Prisoner”, is out on parole, and is making a career out in a rather animalistic version of bare-knuckled boxing. He falls in love with a woman, and proposes to her. She says she already loves Bryan. Bryan who, you might ask. So does Michael. Bryan, her boyfriend. Michael storms into a jewellery store, and after knocking the store owner down steals an engagement ring. There is a good lady in the store too and he warns her not to call the cops for fifteen minutes. He walks over to his woman, and offers her the ring, and she wears it, and she says – Bryan and me are getting married. A raging Michael congratulates her. When you arrive at that moment in the film, you will know why I use the word raging. You would feel sorry too, for Michael. I mean, you would feel sorry for anybody, even Anton Chigurh. Being rejected in love, you see, is universal.
A few moments thereafter in the film, we learn that Charles Bronson (Mr. Hardy), Michael self-declared alter-ego, who has been arrested for the jewellery store theft, and who has served a significant time for the crime, has shown a rather curious sense of art and has impressed his art teacher. The teacher is brimming with pride, a pride a critic or a coach feels when he has discovered a revolutionary talent. He remarks that it is just a matter of time before the authorities discuss his release. Petersen a.k.a Bronson is fuming. When you see the film, you will know why? Er, I might be wrong here. You wouldn’t know why, but you would come to expect that from him. Expect a bend for absolute destruction and hate. He takes his art teacher hostage, and paints his face, and stuffs his mouth with an apple and laughs. You feel the dread. I tell you, the dread is all around. You fear that he might punch the innocent art teacher and hurt him for no reason. You fear this man, this mad man. You feel rotten. You even pity him. This man, which only a few moments before you were sympathetic about. You not just fear him, you even hate him. I think that is an achievement for a film.
I say achievement because till that moment in the film, you have spent the entire running time with Bronson. You have seen him steal, you have seen him smack folks, you have seen him fume in rage, you have seen him almost kill a pedophile, you have seen him fall in love, you have seen him with his mother, you have seen him cry, you have seen him laugh. You have seen him high and seen him low. You have seen him in tender moments. You have spent time, and time is something, dear reader, that sides you along even the most hardened of protagonists. Even Daniel Plainview I think. But not Bronson. He is unapologetic. The film is unapologetic. What could he/it be apologetic about if he/it isn’t aware what he/it needs to apologize for? At the end of it you’re no way nearer to Bronson, neither emotionally nor psychologically. You have gained no insight. Charles Bronson, you learn, is a freakish wonder of nature that merely exists. Cinema, and even literature, by their very nature (owing to the time) tend to take you inside a character and hence end up being, for lack of a better term, explanative. Not Bronson. Hence an achievement.
The movie is visceral I tell you. A punch is a punch, and when it lands you wince. I shall not describe to you the mise-en-scene but I would surely tell you what it is supposed to feel like. Delusional might be the word we’re looking for. Comparisons to A Clockwork Orange are obvious, and in its broad framework you would note the influence. But Kubrick was making a remark on the society; there society was the greater villain. Mr. Refn here is suggesting the absolute opposite. There is no reason for the existence of Charles Bronson save the simple reason that god might have created him in a rather bad mood. The world is a stage, for Bronson, and the only desire he has is of fame. Fame how, he doesn’t know. What is his calling? Not acting. Not singing. It is violence. Pure barbaric violence. To what end? I don’t think even the real life Charles Bronson knows. The film wisely doesn’t pretend to be Hannibal Lecter in that regard. Oh, when I invoke Lecter I don’t suggest his eating habits, but rather his supreme gifts to psychoanalyze a character and understand what makes him tick.
Bronson is a terrifically made movie. It has an idea, and it is clear about it, and it goes about charting it out with precision. And at its center is one of the great performances of the year. With that rumble in his voice, Mr. Hardy courageously walks into the territory of insanity. It is a performance of brutal intensity and skill. Mr. Hardy, I learn, met the real Charles Bronson for his preparation for the role. I assume he didn’t get any insight. He rather might have been wonderstruck. And clueless. How could a man be so remorseless? It is considerably easier to lose yourself in a character that has closure or a hint of humanity at the end of the tunnel. A Jake La Motta. A Trevor Reznick. A Daniel Plainview. A Joker. But to push yourself to the brink and be Charles Bronson, you really got to be considerably more than brave. Mr. Hardy is that, and what he achieves here is something so outlandishly special. It is looney, of course, and it is special. That loony is the bit why it is scary, I guess.