Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Premise: The true story of British convict Michael Peterson, also known as Charles Bronson, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for robbery but ended up serving over thirty years for continued violent behavior.
What Works: Bronson is an existential character study. Part Raging Bull and part Natural Born Killers, Bronson uses a unique filmmaking style to tell the story of a man who entertains vague notions of grandeur. While there is plenty of violence, one of the outstanding traits of this film is how restrained it is. Where many action films dispatch people by the dozen and snuff out lives without blinking, Bronson strikes with a sense of purpose and uses its violence to serve deeper narrative themes. This is a man who spends his time beating other people because he has cultivated an identity defined by violence. And although he is a product of the prison system, the film does not merely blame the institution or reduce the character to a product of upbringing. Instead, the film explores Bronson’s lack of self-consciousness; this is a man who seeks to build an identity and constructs it around his talent for fighting but when faced with basic questions about purpose, the character draws an obvious blank and when confronted with that the film gets to moments of revelation that cut much deeper than the average fight film.
What Doesn’t: Bronson is an unusual film; it is not about constant violence nor does it present itself in a conventional way. Instead it is a thoughtful meditation about masculinity and identity and while it succeeds at that level, viewers expecting UFC-style delights will be disappointed.
DVD extras: Featurettes, a trailer, and the Charles Bronson monologues.
Bottom Line: Bronson is a challenging film, as it does not obey the expectations of commercial fight films. But it is worth viewing by those who enjoyed Fight Club, Raging Bull, or A Clockwork Orange.
Episode: #286 (May 2, 2010)