, 17 Mar 2009
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
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My experiences of this film were initially formed by its status as my girlfriend's preference for our jaunt to the picture house over my own (Young Victoria), a resulting mental crisis over masculinity and modernity and a startling revelation that I seem to have drifted so far into maturity or tedium (depending on your interpretation) that a quasi-historical romance appeals more than a quotable cock-cult bio flick with hefty lashings of violence. When did this happen?
Fortunately the film was a much clever affair than the aint being a bloke tough and beating people up cool formula than I was worried would be deployed. Whilst I cant help worrying that a largely humanistic portrayal of this most disturbed of individuals may create enough sympathetic sentiment to provoke tragic imitation amongst imbalanced or immature audience members, the film seemed to keep a reasonable distance from its main subject, although occasionally dropping its guard and becoming overly friendly.
It is entirely disparaging about the prison system; familiar territory to both film and television but not redundantly covered. What can a system based on justice, punishment and rehabilitation do to a man in possession of a wilder, alien and occasionally convincing morality, unfazed by castigation and entirely indifferent to society, save for a desperate, lifelong desire to be remembered? This is the question, answered disastrously by the British penal system and pondered enthusiastically and occasionally slightly self-righteously by Refns film, that keeps you up talking after seeing the film; not the scenes of violence or occasional forays into glamorisation that have made the headlines.
Well, that, and an overwhelming desire to be built like a bick shirt house. Despite my initial preferences for Young Victoria, Im still it seems some way from immunity from the big screens exaltation of the simple, outright honesty of violence. Here it is contrasted with the lonely superciliousness of the warden, the desperate conformity of his warm, petty-bourgeois parents, the vulgarity of those committing romantic betrayal and the discomforting mannerisms of wanton sexual non-conformity heightened here visually by the tawdriness of the 80s and usually comes up the unenviable victor. There is a genuine gracefulness to Bronsons character, both emotionally and physically, best expressed in the sheer elegance of his mid-bout taunting during the brutish confrontations of his bare-knuckle days and the occasional warmth displayed to his family, prison mates and in his momentary romances.
I would have liked to have known about his relationship with his son, though, and cant help but be suspicious about why it would pass virtually unmentioned. I was similarly apprehensive of the depiction of the mentally ill although not in a sufficiently experienced position to cry unfair. Hardy is masterful in his depiction; not just in the striking resemblance to Bronson but for the subtlety of a performance which could have easily relied on crude impersonation and caricature. Whilst the moral or sociological benefit of the films humanisation, or perhaps de-demonisation, of Bronson may be questioned, it is luminously achieved.
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