Posts Tagged ‘Her majesty’s most expensive prisoner’

Film Reviews!: Bronson

December 17, 2010

Bronson tries to do everything a biopic should do, and then some.  It looks to portray its subject’s life in a unique, personal fashion toying with conventions, tone, and pacing to create a story thread true to its central character.  And while, at times, the biopic manages to do exactly that with a starved, exasperated, solitary pacing, this very same element also manages to grind the film to a halt at times and forces the audience to linger on moments and points in the criminal’s life that we simply could have done without.

Granted, the biopic of a man who has spent 34 years in prison, 30 of which were spent in solitary confinement, would be hard to tell.  However, there are certainly fantastical elements to Michael Peterson’s (the titular character’s birth name) life that would merit a 90 minute feature.  Unfortunately, director Nicolas Refn, doesn’t choose to dote on those aspects.  It’s almost as if he’s afraid to let any moment of character or excitement develop for longer than a short spat of screen time.  What he may have been trying to produce were bigger moments, larger flashes in the pan, if you will, amongst the sea of monotony that coursed through Bronson’s life.  The finished product, however, eventually comes across as uncharacteristically languid and tedious by film’s end.  While we spend plenty of time seeing Peterson shipped from prison to prison, rotting away as time transpires, Refn neglects to show instances of the man’s life that the audience would love to see that are merely broached.  The robbery Peterson commits at the age of 19 which catalyzes his stint in the “hotel” as he calls it, of prison.  Also, Bronson’s 69 day stint on the outside where he allegedly took to streetfighting and fell in love with a stripper could have become, at the very least, a bit more fleshed out, if for nothing else, to delve into a few other character’s psyche.  However, maybe that would have taken away from the solidarity of Bronson’s own mental state, I’m really not sure, but that’s what one comes away with after this film.  Rather than a sincere semblance of what the director was looking for, the audience comes away feeling a bit exhausted and listless.  Even Bronson’s prison riot he organized where he earned the title of “Her majesty’s most expensive prisoner” is glazed over with actual news footage that probably entails thirty seconds of screen time.  Glossed over with a few phrases on fame.  Much time feels wasted and the overarching wish of the theatre goer is that we could have illuminated certain elements while keeping others abbreviated.

All things considered, however, Bronson does do certain things well, mostly by taking chances.  The theatrical style in which the story is told does MUCH to alleviate the audience’s job of staying engaged with the story.  Without the innovative, first-person, fourth-wall-breaking, vaudevillian style in which Bronson tells his tale to the crowd, I believe that this movie would have become borderline unwatchable.  Not for any extraordinary circumstances, but quite the opposite, it would have ground to a halt in the first half.  Also, much can be said for Tom Hardy’s pitch-perfect over-the-top, grandiose performance as a performer without anything to really say to his audience.  Bronson speaks to wanting fame multiple times in the flick and only finds solace in violence and mayhem.  Hardy’s rendition of a praise-desiring circus act relying on battle to merit a response from the British populace additionally saves the film from what would have surely been eventual ruin had a weaker actor been granted the part. Further, the soundtrack to the film does MUCH to bring the story to life.  Primarily consisting of electronica and classical scores, the audible element of the film does mesh perfectly with what Refn has captured onscreen, and does much to accentuate the action.  One of my favorite flourishes is during a fight scene when the synths from the electric undercurrent of the score actually sync up to individual punches Bronson lands on his opponents.  If the whole movie was categorized by moments of character like this, it would have been a completely different (i.e. better) experience.

While describing things this film does right, one simply must condone its cinematography.  One of the key elements of the film that gave you a strikingly adroit insight into the mind of the man, the look of the film managed to give you a claustrophobic, caged sense to the entirety of the story, only ever to be saved by Bronson himself.  The visual aesthetic of the film keeps you boxed into Bronson’s world, devoid of much outlet, left only to be led and held by the man whose mind you’ve entered.  Additionally, certain shots bring so much more to the story than an individual character ever could.  One of the first shots in the insane asylum, for example, contains a long dolly shot in which we follow one inmate as he walks the length of the recreational area.  He passes Bronson, who is incredibly close to frame, so close that one could easily be forgiven for not noticing him, stops a few feet past, turns, and returns to a drug-addled Bronson who is clearly out of his mind.  It’s a simple tracking shot, but the actor’s placement, the shot’s pacing, and the reveals that the shot entails brings so very much to light as to the personality of the film itself.

Unfortunately, there are too few times in which these moments remind us of why we are watching this movie to begin with.  While I certainly acquiesce that Refn may very well have been looking to build the atmosphere of the story around Bronson’s primarily caged life, the end result simply leaves us wanting more, and not in terms of more of the same, but rather in the scope of more from the film itself.

Performances: 80

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 79

Score: 78

Script: 60

Overall:62

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