UK theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicolas Winding Refn|
|Produced by||Rupert Preston|
|Written by||Brock Norman Brock|
Nicolas Winding Refn
|Music by||Johnny Jewel|
|Edited by||Matthew Newman|
|Distributed by||Magnet Releasing|
|Box office||$2.3 million|
Bronson is a 2008 British biographical crime drama film co-written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Tom Hardy as Michael Peterson, known from 1987 as Charles Bronson. The film follows the life of this notorious prisoner, known for violent attacks against other prisoners, guards, and governors in prison; protests, armed robbery, and art. He was renamed Charles Bronson by his fight promoter, for his bare-knuckle fighting years.
Born into a respectable middle-class family, Peterson became known as one of the United Kingdom's most dangerous prisoners. Because of his violence, Bronson was repeatedly put into isolation or solitary confinement, which likely contributed to his emotional problems.
The film begins with short scenes from Bronson's delinquent childhood and early life, narrated with a wry humour by Hardy as Bronson/Peterson. Initially he faces the camera directly, dressed in prison garb; other times he is shown telling his tale in a vaudeville-style theatre in front of a live audience who laugh at and applaud his stories. The film's story is not told in a purely linear fashion but unfolds as a surreal narrative of connected vignettes, punctuated by vaudeville interludes which sometimes break into the film at unexpected times.
He recounts various episodes of criminal behaviour and violence which led to his first 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 assaults against prison guards 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 rebel. The officials administer drugs, which Peterson claims make him physically weak. In his first escape attempt, he walks sluggishly toward the exit, where he is waved back to a chair by a staffer. Later, he decides to escape by earning a transfer back to prison. He attempts to strangle another detainee with his socks, but is apprehended before killing the man, which means he will not be transferred. He comments to the audience that despite all his prison time and solitary confinement, he has never killed anyone.
In the vaudeville theatre, Peterson/Bronson shows film footage of a rooftop protest during which he escaped to the institution's roof and managed to cause what he calls "tens of millions 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 both the violence and showmanship involved. 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. She declines, stating she plans to marry her boyfriend. Bronson is shortly thereafter apprehended and brought back to jail.
After sixty-nine days of freedom, he is again in prison. He kidnaps the prison librarian and calmly waits for reinforcements to arrive, alternatively screaming at his hostage and peaceably asking him about his family. When he hears the other guards arriving, he strips naked and forces the librarian to assist in applying his "body armour", which is petroleum jelly, meant to make him harder to grab a hold of in the imminent brawl. After being restrained again, Bronson is warned by the prison governor that he will die inside if his behaviour does not improve.
The next few scenes show Bronson's embrace of drawing and cartooning. Encouraged by a prison art teacher who notices something special in his drawings, he seems to become a model prisoner for a while, channelling 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 for use. When told the art studio will be closing, the art teacher attempts to comfort Bronson, saying that his artistic talents may help him secure early release. Bronson attacks the teacher, holding him hostage in the studio as prison officials wait outside.
While this standoff takes place, he demands music be played, and he paints his naked body black as he listens, and ties the teacher to a post. He forces an apple into his mouth, paints a matching moustache onto his face, and removes his own hat and glasses to put on the teacher's head. After this human still-life has been arranged to his satisfaction, he accepts his fate, calling for the prison guards to burst in for yet another violent brawl, for which he will be sent back to solitary.
- Tom Hardy as Michael Gordon Peterson/Charles Bronson
- Matt King as Paul Daniels, nightclub owner and former fellow prisoner
- James Lance as Phil Danielson, prison art teacher
- Amanda Burton as Charlie's mother
- Kelly Adams as Irene Peterson, Charlie's wife
- Juliet Oldfield as Alison, Charlie's lover
- Jonathan Phillips as the Prison Governor
- Mark Powley as Prison Officer Andy Love
- Hugh Ross as Uncle Jack
- Joe Tucker as John White, fellow patient in Rampton
- Gordon Brown as Screw, the first guard Bronson fights
- Charlie Whyman as fellow patient in Rampton
For the role, Hardy had telephone conversations with 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 in order for it to be used as a moustache prop for Hardy to wear in the film. Filming was done in and around the St. Ann's, Sherwood, Worksop and Welbeck Abbey areas of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. 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 a British citizen. He was only allowed two phone calls with him.
Tom Hardy was rumoured to do 2,500 push-ups a day in preparation for the role of Bronson. But he was more interested in trying to put on weight for the role. Bronson himself was said to be the one doing 2,500 push-ups a day, as part of the fitness routine he had developed for life in prison. Hardy denied this rumour 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.
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.
Upon release, Bronson received critical acclaim, with many praising Hardy's performance, the film's writing and direction, as well as the humour and the action sequences, though it was criticised for its violence. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, gives the film an approval rating of 76% based on reviews from 80 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." Metacritic gives the film a "generally favourable" average score of 71 out of 100 based on 22 reviews.
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?"
Bronson was not initially allowed to view the film, but had said that if his mother 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 Hardy, but disagreed on the implied distance between himself and his father; and the portrayal of Paul Edmunds, a former prisoner and nightclub owner (portrayed in the film by Matt King as 'Paul Daniels') as "a bit of a ponce". Bronson challenged his own family's reaction to the portrayal of his Uncle Jack, stating that he "loved" it, as would Jack himself. Bronson had been originally displeased with the choice of Hardy as star, but during their first meeting in person, Hardy assured him that he would "fix it". Bronson's trust in Hardy's acting grew such that once he had seen the film, he said, "If I were to die in jail then at least I live on through Britain’s No 1 actor".
- "BRONSON (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- "Bronson". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
- "Charles Bronson: 'I chopped off my moustache and sent it to actor Tom Hardy'" http://www.walesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- "Film-makers invest millions in Notts" Archived 15 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Thisisnottingham.co.uk. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- "Rough Character". http://www.interviewmagazine.com. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
- Bronson at Rotten Tomatoes
- Bronson at Metacritic
- Roger Ebert (Oct 27, 2009) Reviews: Bronson
- "The Charlie Bronson Appeal Fund". Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
- "Tom Hardy: Becoming Bronson" uk.askmen.com