By Scott Weinberg. Reprinted from Sundance Film Festival, January 2009
Raw, blistering, harsh and compelling in the way that only a really good "prison film" can be, Nicolas Wining Refn's Bronson is a rather rough experience. Fortunately it's also very smart, dark, intelligent and disturbing, supported by a force-of-nature lead performance and a screenplay that focuses more on the "character study" angle and less on the "wow, prison sure is disgusting" perspective.
Based (apparently very closely) on actual events, Bronson is about a British thug named Michael Peterson, a rough, gruff, and muscle-bound troublemaker who somehow earned the title of Britian's most violent prisoner. Incarcerated for a stupid (but non-violent) post office robbery, Peterson adopts the moniker of American film star Charles Bronson and begins a long and rather unpleasant life behind bars. Although he's more of a angry man than an outright evil one, poor Bronson has a serious problem keeping his temper in check. Stuck in a cell with little to do besides build muscles and pace around nervously, Bronson snatches every opportunity to dole out some raw-knuckled fisticuffs whenever the "screws" invade his cell.