Bronson (2009)

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Bronson is a film about British prisoner Michael Gordon Peterson, later dubbed Charles Bronson. Peterson was sent to prison for robbing a bank, and went on to spend the majority of his life in solitary confinement. Peterson always wanted to be famous, so he made sure to use this opportunity to build his notoriety. While he is not a household name, he has become a star to his fellow inmates, and more importantly, to himself. Bronson is a tale of the purest narcissism imaginable. Only a masterful performance could possibly make the film interesting. Fortunately, Tom Hardy delivered.

Prison films tend to be about troubled characters who are struggling to escape from their demons. Bronson is quite the opposite. Bronson has no interest in rehabilitation. It is tempting to think that he is just a masochistic lunatic. After all, right from the beginning of the film, the man invites constant physical punishment. Yet, he never seems to be malicious. Like a mischievous child, Bronson always tries to push his boundaries. He constantly provokes the guards to attack him for his own amusement. The physical punishment never seems to bother him. It seems that he is the star of his own one man show. Though his personal amusement is enough to justify his constant punishment, he relishes the notoriety that it has caused. His only use for others is as instruments. Guards, women--their only use is to further his own personal drama. This is the ultimate narcissism.

Bronson is one of the grittiest art house films around. It's repeated violent sequences are bridged together by a the main character performing a stand up routine, likely in his own mind. Though the violence is brutal, and the plot line slow, Bronson is always gripping. It's funny, yet we feel guilty about laughing. Bronson is an ascetic, or a madman. He never quite lets us into his mind, but he always reveals just enough to keep the audience wondering.