Artsy Inmate Bio a ‘Clockwork’ Apple

    Bronson
    Starring Tom Hardy, Matthew King, Kelly Adams
    Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
    Rated R
    01:32
    3 stars

    If you can’t get enough of Stanley Kubrick’s juxtaposition of maniacal sadism and Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” in “A Clockwork Orange,” you’ll drool over “Bronson” — a magnifying glass to the twisted mind of Britain’s most violent (not to mention expensive) prisoner.

    This time around, Danish writer and director Nicolas Winding Refn chronicles the life of Michael Peterson, a bad-tempered 19-year-old determined to reach celebrity status at any price.

    In the early ’70s, after a failed attempt at robbing a post office , Peterson was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he developed an indestructible alter ego by the name of Charles Bronson.

    Bronson — think Mr. Clean with a handlebar moustache — would spend the next 34 years diligently turning prison after prison into a bloodbath of mangled security guards. (And after 30 years in solitary confinement, who could really blame him?)

    Narrated by the legend himself — er, Tom Hardy — in a death rattle that would make M. Night Shyamalan piss his pants, the film pays homage to its 1972 muse by bowing down to the cardinal rule of thriller-making: Nothing is more terrifying than stillness.

    Whether Bronson is sizing up his audience with the trademark “I’m-a kill you” grimace or mentally preparing to strangle his next victim, the coronary-inducing silence is enough to psych out even the most levelheaded scary-moviegoer.

    With full-frontal nudity, Mike Tyson-style face chomps, sinister imagery likely to unearth childhood clown and/or mime phobias — along with a particularly nauseating opportunity to watch a man crap in his own hand — “Bronson” was not fashioned for the weak-stomached.

    It is, however, filled with smart dark humor — necessary to offset the pure terror that is Charles Bronson. In one hilariously creepy segment, our prisoner is transferred to a psychiatric ward (what he likes to call the loony bin). As patients prance around on a makeshift dance floor to upbeat ’80s electronica by Pet Shop Boys and New Order, Refn showcases his artistic direction, sharply capturing the disturbing mental state of his flamboyant anti-hero.

    While the visual ridiculousness of such scenes renders the film so much as side-splitting at points, it’s the soundtrack that sets the ironic tone to buoyant. Drawing on Kubrick’s style, Refn juxtaposes opera and country ditties with shots of Bronson growling at police, terrorizing hostages and frothing at the mouth after being sedated by doctors.

    And the ambition doesn’t stop there. Weaving color motifs, psychedelic drawings, surrealist masks and a recurring one-man theater performance starring Bronson’s subconscious, Refn goes above and beyond to mimic his predecessor and drop-kick the audience out of its comfort zone.

    Don’t think for a second that “Bronson” is going to join “Orange” on the list of greatest films ever made — but there is something to say for Hardy’s bracing portrayal of the man who will continue to send shivers down the spines of his Earl Grey-sipping compatriots for decades to come. I mean, the fact that Bronson is still alive and well within England’s Wakefield High-Security Prison is enough for me.

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