After watching the underrated neo-noir film Drive (2011), which is an outstanding movie, and the equally underrated film Valhalla Rising (2009), the latter a dark and moody, surrealistic Viking-era film shot in the remote highlands of Scotland and which stars the excellent Mads Mikkelsen, I’ve been quite interested in the Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed both films. (In 2011, Refn won the Best Director Award at Cannes for Drive.)
With those two films, Refn seems to explore the inherent and ineradicable ‘problem’ of man’s potential for violence, often extreme violence. I sense a conservatism in Refn’s aesthetic, one that acknowledges the tribal nature of violence and revenge, the role of honor, and associated tropes of chivalry toward the fairer sex and children. Thematically, I put him squarely in the camp of Cormac McCarthy.
Likewise, pending the highly anticipated Mad Max reboot, I’ve been increasingly intrigued by Tom Hardy, who appears to fit the post-60s template for an intense and introspective actor.
Enter Bronson (2008), which Refn wrote and directed and which Hardy plays the lead in. (Hardy was nominated for Best Actor by that year’s London Critics Circle Film Awards for the role.) The film is loosely based on the life of Michael Gordon Peterson, aka Charles Salvador, aka ‘Charles Bronson’, a psychotic lifetime criminal whom the British press in the ‘70s often referred to as “Britain’s most violent criminal.” Hardy is a guy who can make any movie more compelling by his sheer presence and performance (e.g., his performance as Bain in Chris Nolan’s 2012 Batman-film The Dark Knight Rises.)
Refn’s aforementioned themes are touched upon in Bronson, mitigated to an extent by that criminal’s psychosis. The film parallels Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) in its message that certain people are just born violent, and that it’s both largely impossible and immoral for the state to ‘force’ docility (e.g., through strong psychiatric drugs) upon such individuals. It’s almost better that they be killed by the state rather than forcibly drugged-up and turned into drooling vegetables.
On a sidenote: The trailer for the upcoming movie “Legend”, where Hardy plays both of the Kray brothers (two twins who ran the London crime syndicate in the 1960s) looks promising: