Bronson (film)

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Bronson poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Produced by Rupert Preston
Danny Hansford
Written by Brock Norman Brock
Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Tom Hardy
Music by Johnny Jewel
Cinematography Larry Smith
Edited by Matthew Newman
Aramid Entertainment
Str8jacket Creations
EM Media
4DH Films
Perfume Films
Distributed by Vertigo Films (UK)
Magnet Releasing (US)
Release date
Running time
92 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $230,000
Box office $2.3 million[2]

Bronson is a 2008 British fictionalized biographical crime film co-written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Tom Hardy. The film follows the life of notorious prisoner Michael Gordon Peterson, who was renamed Charles Bronson by his fight promoter. Born into a respectable middle-class family, Peterson would nevertheless become one of the United Kingdom's most dangerous criminals, and is known for having spent almost his entire adult life in solitary confinement. Bronson is narrated with humour, blurring the line between comedy and horror.


The film begins with scenes from Bronson's childhood and early life, narrated with a wry humor by Hardy as Bronson/Peterson. Initially he is shown confronting the camera directly, dressed in prison garb; other times he is shown telling his tale in a vaudeville-style theater in front of a live audience who laughs and applauds at his stories. The film's story is not told in a linear fashion but unfolds as a surreal narrative of disconnected vignettes, punctuated by vaudeville interludes which sometimes break into the film at unexpected times.

He recounts various episodes of criminal behavior and violence which lead to him being sentenced to seven years in prison. At his sentencing, his mother optimistically declares her hope that he'll get out in four years. While in prison, however, he engages in numerous violent outburts, assaulting prison guard and fellow prisoners alike, which results in his sentence being extended beyond seven years.

Eventually Peterson is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he continues to brawl with those charged with the duty of controlling him. Put in solitary confinement, Peterson devises a plan that will be his trademark: he holds a member of the staff hostage until the help is sent, and then quixotically fights the help until being beaten and/or restrained. He is forcibly sedated and seemingly kept in this state for a long stretch of time. Eventually Peterson channels his yearning for rebellion, making a shoddy run for his escape until he is calmly thwarted by a staffer standing near the exit. Later, he musters more strength and attempts to strangle another detainee with his socks, but is apprehended again before killing the man.

In the vaudeville theater, Peterson/Bronson shows film footage of a rooftop protest during which he escaped to the institution's roof and managed to cause thousands of pounds' damage. He credits this destruction with the government's subsequent decision to declare him "sane" and have him released.

After a brief reunion with his parents, who have moved to a small suburban home, he sets off to see his Uncle Jack in Luton, where he was raised. He is welcomed back and reintroduced to an old prison mate, who promises to set him up with a new career as a bare-knuckle boxer and gives him the new name Charles Bronson, after the famous American actor.

Bronson enters the world of bare knuckle boxing and seems to enjoy getting punches as much as delivering them. Not content with his meagre winnings, he ups the stakes by fighting two opponents at once, and even fights a dog. Banged up and in love, Bronson proposes to a woman he met at his uncle’s, but she tells him she loves another man, "her boyfriend." Bronson steals a thousand-pound ring in the hopes that she will marry him and after she tells him she plans to marry her boyfriend, he is apprehended and brought back to jail.

After sixty nine days of freedom he once again finds himself imprisoned. He kidnaps the prison librarian and calmly waits for reinforcements to arrive, at one point stripping naked and forcing the librarian to anoint his body with "war paint," which is actually petroleum jelly. After being restrained again, he is warned by the prison governor that he will die inside if his behavior does not improve.

The next few scenes show Bronson's embrace of drawing and cartooning. Encouraged by a prison art teacher who notices somethings special in his drawings, he seems to become a model prisoner for a while, channeling his confusion and pain into vivid imagery of birds and grotesque creatures. He is allowed access to a prison art studio where advanced art supplies are available to use.

Without warning Bronson one day attacks his teacher, holding him hostage in the studio and enacting a bizarre ritual as prison officials wait outside. While this standoff takes place, he demands music be played, paints his naked body black and ties the teacher to a post, forcing an apple into his mouth and painting his eyelids. After this human still life has been arranged to his satisfaction, he accepts his fate, calling for the prison guards to burst in for one last violent brawl.



For the role, Hardy had telephone conversations with the real Charles Bronson, before meeting him in person. During their meetings, Bronson was so impressed by how Hardy had managed to build up his physique for the role and how good he was at imitating him that he shaved off his trademark moustache so that it could be made into a moustache prop for Hardy to wear in the film.[3] Filming was done in and around the St. Ann's, Sherwood, Worksop and Welbeck Abbey areas of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.[4] The post office shown at the beginning of the film is located in Lostwithiel, Cornwall.

Director Refn was not permitted to visit Bronson in prison because he is not from Britain. He was only allowed two phone calls with him.[citation needed]

Contrary to popular belief, Tom Hardy did not do 2,500 push-ups a day in preparation for the role of Bronson. The confusion and reason for this rumor is that Charlie Bronson himself was the one doing 2,500 push-ups a day around the time Hardy was meeting with him to gather information for the film script. Hardy himself denied this rumor during an interview in late 2009 with Michael Slenke from Interview Magazine:

SLENSKE: But you were doing some crazy training for that too, like 2500 push-ups a day?

HARDY: No, Charlie does 2500 push-ups a day, I didn't do that. I had to put on a lot of weight as quick as possible and I only had five weeks to do it, and a lot of that was fat. I ate everything. To be honest, I lost about 14 pounds of fat on this last film, and gained 28 pounds of muscle. I was heavier than I was on Bronson.[5]


Box office[edit]

Bronson opened in a single cinema in North America and made $10,940. The film ended up earning $104,979 in the U.S with the widest release being in 10 cinemas. Internationally it made $2,155,733 for a total of $2,260,712.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 76% based on reviews from 79 critics, with an average rating of 6.6 out of 10 with the consensus "Undeniably gripping, Bronson forces the viewer to make some hard decisions about where the line between art and exploitation lies."[6] Metacritic gives the film a "generally favourable" average score of 71 out of 100 based on 22 reviews.[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and praised the decision not to attempt to rationalise and explain Bronson's behaviour stating in his review, "I suppose, after all, Nicolas Winding Refn, the director and co-writer of "Bronson," was wise to leave out any sort of an explanation. Can you imagine how you'd cringe if the film ended in a flashback of little Mickey undergoing childhood trauma? There is some human behavior beyond our ability to comprehend. I was reading a theory the other day that a few people just happen to be pure evil. I'm afraid I believe it. They lack any conscience, any sense of pity or empathy for their victims. But Bronson is his own victim. How do you figure that?"[8]

Bronson was not initially allowed to view the film, but had said that if his mum liked it he was sure he would as well. According to Refn's DVD audio commentary, his mother said she loved it. On 15 November 2011, he was granted permission to view it. Describing it as "theatrical, creative, and brilliant", Bronson heaped praise upon his portrayer, Hardy, but disagreed on the implied distance between himself and his father and the portrayal of Paul Edmunds (portrayed in the film by Matt King as 'Paul Daniels') as "a bit of a ponce." Nevertheless, he challenged his own family's reaction to the portrayal of his Uncle Jack, stating that he "loved" it, as would Jack himself.[9] Bronson had been originally displeased with the choice of Hardy, but after their first physical meeting, Hardy assured him that he would "fix it."[10] As proven, Bronson's development in trust in Hardy's acting grew, even describing him as "Britain's No. 1 actor."[9]


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