Sunday, 22 August 2010

Her Majesty's Most Expensive Prisoner.

People know Tom Hardy now because of the fact the he called my future husband 'darling' in Inception, but a few years ago he made a film that was in the World competition at Sundance and won the 2009 Sydney Film Prize. He took on the fearsome role of the notorious British criminal Charles Bronson (born Michael Peterson), putting on something like 20kgs and spending much of his time fighting, and much of that naked. It's a fearsome breakout role, played stunningly by our English friend (whose first two screen credits are for Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down - not bad debut roles, huh? Apparently he's also taking on the Max role in the new Mad Max film.)

Bronson (the character in the film of the same name) was a brawler from a young age - he is shown fighting as a young boy at school, wielding desks as weapons. Not long after marriage he robs a post office and is sentenced to a rather sever seven years in jail. But while there he begins to treat it as a hotel, and decides to fight with the guards every night. He is shifted from prison to prison, then to a psychiatric hospital where is kept drugged, but finally plots his return to a normal prison by strangling a man who confesses being a pedophile. After arriving at Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital, a high-security facility, he manages to start a riot, ending up holing himself up on the roof, earning himself the title of this entry.

Paroled (for some unknown reason...) he moves back with his parents and takes up bare knuckle fighting for money - do what you're good at, right? He falls for a girl, who isn't interested in him in a serious way, and robs a jewellery store for an engagement ring. This constitutes a violation of his parole, and he is sent back to prison, where his violent outbursts become more and more creative, leading to extension after extension on his term. He is beaten, constantly in solitary confinement (he is apparently most renowned for having spent the majority of his life in solitary, in fact), but he seems to revel in every moment of it. This is what he wants - and this is how he gains the fame and notoriety he has always craved.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (who is apparently responsible for the Pusher trilogy, though I have no idea what that is... should I?) also co-wrote the screenplay, placing Bronson on a stage, performing to an audience, as his narration. Bronson always wanted to be famous, but didn't have the normal entertainer skills - Refn gives him those skills in his biopic, channelled through Hardy's brilliant performance. Hardy, for his part, entirely inhabits his character. I don't recall seeing him in other roles (though I must have), but I don't think it would matter - truly, his appearance is terrifying and his character is appalling. But his performance, with Refn's script, gives him humour, and depth, and emotion. Yes, he probably deserves all of the beatings he gets, but it is a cry for attention, and one wonders how the prison system can function with abuse like that as rampant as it is portrayed. Maybe there is creative license - but maybe not.

The film was quite indie, and I'm certain a lot of criticism must have been levelled against it for glorifying the life of a criminal, especially one as violent as him - similar criticisms were levelled against Chopper back in the day. But Bronson, as sympathetic as you may feel towards him at times, is never shown as anything other than the masochistic monster that he is. Just because you can laugh with him doesn't mean he isn't a monster. It just means he's a funny monster. You still want to keep him well away from your children. 4 stars.

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