On recommendation from a friend, I watched this film on Netflix recently, and was beyond impressed. I haven't gotten out to the movies to see anything new lately, but I'm glad I watched this one, albeit two years later.
Bronson tells the story of Michael Peterson, who later went by his "fighting name," Charles Bronson, known as "Britain's most violent criminal." After being arrested for a bank robbery, Peterson, seeking fame and some kind of recognition, turns into a wild beast behind bars, garnering his dubious reputation. The film follows him from one penitentiary to another, where he comes up with creative violent means to sustain his reputation. The violent fight scenes captured by director Nicolas Winding Refn are some of the most visceral and direct ever put on film, yet manage to avoid exploitative gore through sheer emotional impact, and because the movie isn't all bloody fight scenes. The narrative is broken with a clever device, where Peterson, aka Bronson, imagines telling his story in a theater to a captive audience, putting on a full performance throughout the tale, making light of his vicious behavior. That he chose the name of an action star as his pseudonym is significant, because his violence, his whole life, is performance, a means to get noticed. Unlike Natural Born Killers, whose director Oliver Stone beat the viewer over the head with the "infamy=fame" equation, Bronson, through creative and engaging storytelling, highlights the same issue in a far more subtle and affecting manner.
The undeniable highlight of Bronson is the fearless, unflinching and powerful performance of Tom Hardy in the lead. Hardy, who gained mainstream notice for his standout role in 2010's Inception, makes the most of the role. He's perfectly menacing in the fight scenes, but he isn't afraid to look foolish for the part, as in Bronson's hammier "monologues" in the theater of his mind, or to show a vulnerable side in Peterson's troubled earlier life. Hardy shows a remarkable range, and plays each side with equal intensity. Through Hardy's charisma and Refn's eye for visceral violence, the viewer gets dragged, willingly, through a harrowing journey into the life and mind of a psychopath, one they won't forget.