"You don't want to be trapped inside with me sunshine."
My first Nicolas Winding Refn film was Drive, which I absolutely fell in love with and it quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. I had no prior knowledge of his past work and went into his next film, Only God Forgives, with huge expectations. Despite having a great style and beautiful cinematography, I was really disappointed with the story. Now I've decided to go back and watch some of his past films, starting with Bronson and I must say that I really enjoyed it. Bronson centers on an extremely violent character, and that is one thing I've found in common with these three movies. Refn likes exploring this sort of violent behavior and unsettles the audience with these disturbing scenes. It was something that caught me off guard when I first saw Drive because the first half of the film seemed like it was going to explore the romantic relationship between the two leads, but once the elevator scene takes place it completely changes gears. In Only God Forgives the violence is heavily stylized and there is practically little narrative. Bronson may be a little more similar to Only God Forgives in that you don't get your typical narrative structure in the film, but Refn succeeds in making this a film about a violent character and not just a stylized violent film. The violence we get in Bronson all comes from this one character who the film centers on. It is in his nature to be violent and there is no explanation as to why he behaves this way, we just see him as who he really is.
The screenplay co-written by Refn and Norman Brock centers on the true story of one of Britain's most notorious and violent criminals, Michael Paterson (Tom Hardy), who is better known with his alter ego name, Charles Bronson, which he adopted after having seen Death Wish starring that actor. Paterson introduces himself once he's in prison claiming he had a normal childhood. Ever since he can remember he's wanted to be famous so the easiest way to become famous was adopting the life of a criminal. In 1974 at the age of 19 he attempted to rob a post office and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Due to his violent behavior those 7 years turned into 34, and 30 of those he spent in solitary confinement due to his violent behavior. It's during this time that Bronson creates alternate realities celebrating his criminal persona and glorifying his violent behavior in his mind as he enjoys beating the prison guards and sometimes even taking them hostages in his cell.
This is Tom Hardy's movie and his physical performance is so impressive that it's simply irresistible. He has all this rage and anger in him and he looks like he can explode in any second on screen. Hardy is one of my favorite actors so when I say that this is his best performance, I'm giving it very high praise. This isn't a violent film, it's a surreal character study of a violent man. In no way is Refn trying to glorify this criminal, he is simply portraying this man as evil without trying to explain how he became this way. He simply is violent and there is no need to try to reason with it. The scenes where Refn takes us into his mind and we see him performing in front of an audience are really impressive, especially that two-faced scene. Refn executes this film perfectly with his usual eccentric scores combining electronic with classical music which fit perfectly the character of Bronson. In the midst of all the dark and violent scenes, Refn also introduces some subtle comedy in the mix. Bronson is a biopic unlike any other and it's hard to resist due to Hardy's furious and mouth foaming performance.