Tag Archives: Charles Bronson

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson is based on the violent true life exploits of Britain’s famed criminal Charles Bronson, jailed for decades on purpose and loving it. These type of films usually have a dutiful, glossy biopic mechanism to them, but Refn is ever the extreme stylistic boundary pusher and the way he directs seems as if we’re actually in the hectic subconscious of the protagonist as opposed to looking in from the outside. It’s hazy, hallucinatory, weird, unpredictable and soaked in the feverish neon that has become the Danish maverick’s calling card. Then there’s the performance by Tom Hardy, which defies both description and classification. He doesn’t so much act as he does exist, like an element or a primal instinct, playing Bronson filled to the brim with cheeky aggression, animalistic behaviour, a galaxy of idiosyncratic mannerisms and the likability to keep us entranced through what, upon reflection, is actually a really fucked up and disturbing story. Bronson, born Michael Petersen, was busted barely out of his teens for terrifically botching an attempted post office robbery, chucked in the pen where he’d have been out in four years or so with ‘good behaviour.’ Well. Let’s just say that the good behaviour part isn’t in either his nature or his plan. He loves conflict, fights the guards any chance he gets, incites riots and makes life hell for the British correctional force. That’s basically the film, but the straightforward story only exists to serve a surreal tapestry of episodic, atmospheric interludes where the plot isn’t so much unfolding in a literate manner as it is taking a backseat to Bronson’s unconventional, self aware telling of his own story. There’s editing and colour timing that’s so saturated, so bizarre and out there you feel like the whole thing exists as a dream, resplendent with oddball character interactions, delirious, thumping soundtrack choices and the kind of mood-scape that sucks you right the fuck in. Refn doesn’t try and provide any answers to the psychological nature of a guy like Charles either, and that’s a wise move. It’s interesting to look at the third act in which his behaviour seems to take a turn for the better with the arrival of a helpful shrink/mentor only to have him gleefully fake everyone out and start causing shit again. It’s seemingly arbitrary and his antics don’t hand a purpose, frankly outlined by Refn as storyteller, and not historian. It’s about Charles, and this is *his* story, told by this whipped up, warped version of himself that’s personified by Hardy in what can arguably be called the performance that put him on the map, and whatever your gut reaction to a piece of cinema this provocative and strange, there’s no debate over what a galvanizing, brilliantly concocted sensory experience it is.

-Nate Hill

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Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West

There isn’t much I can say about Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West that the mythical, larger than life masterpiece couldn’t say for itself, especially on its magnificent, crystal clear Blu Ray transfer that blows the dust out of the cracks and showcases it’s sunny cinematography in full remixed glory. From the coming of the railroad to a fledgling empire, the corrupt businessmen employing hard bitten thugs to do their nefarious bidding (a prophetic motif if there ever was one), the searing forbidden romance between the archetypal ex-working girl and the silent, lethally dangerous drifter, the dusters adorning gunfighter that sway in a lilting prairie breeze, the trod of hooves, the thunder of impending gunfire preceded by the eerie calm of the showdown before, this is the western to end all westerns, the textbook example, the crown jewel of the genre and the one wheat-stalk saga that I just can’t get enough of. Leone basically patented an entire sub-genre between this and the Man With No Name trilogy, it’s a now timeless flavour that rippled down throughout the generations and changed the face of the western forever. The film itself is perfectly balanced symphonic storytelling, in every aspect of the medium. Charles Bronson’s mysterious loner Harmonica blusters into town, opaque and uttering few words save for the melancholic strains of his instrument brought to wailing life by composer Ennio Morricone. Henry Fonda’s elegant, magnetic and unbelievably evil mercenary Frank hovers over everything like a black cloud of portent. Claudia Cardinele’s drop dead gorgeous Jill violently carves out her own path of survival, lust and grief amidst the unforgiving frontier. Jason Robard’s half injun outlaw Cheyanne tries hard not to wear an obvious heart of gold on his sleeve while seeking retribution for a diabolical frame-job. These mythical, monolithic individuals invite shades of grey into what we’ve become accustomed to in Western archetypes too, which is another hallmark of Leone. Gone are the stalwart sheriffs, stoic heroic leading men and obvious moustache twirling of clearly delineated villains. Bronson is rough, callous and never straight up chivalrous, Fonda is reptilian but oh so charming, the kind blue eyes barely suggesting what evil leers beneath, and Robards for his part turns an outright scoundrel into something of a teddy bear during his arc. It’s in the little, drawn out interactions and moments that we learn what we need to know about these characters, and Leone lets their performances, Morricone’s iconic score and the lingering space between action tell the story, so that by the time the monumental showdown rolls in, we know what we need to know about these wild, complex personalities and can get swept up in the revelatory spectacle of it. One for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner

I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.

-Nate Hill

Breakheart Pass


Breakheart Pass is a wicked tough, badass Charles Bronson action vehicle steeped in the macho charm on the 1970’s, and filled with ever changing photography as a train hurtles across the Nevada and Idaho mountains during a snowy winter. Onboard is John Deakins (Bronson), a dangerous outlaw being transported as prisoner to a remote, well guarded fort somewhere deep in the wilderness. Deakins isn’t who he seems though, and neither is anyone else onboard for that matter. When a murder occurs, he takes it upon himself to wage a bloody crusade on everyone else in order to find the truth about what’s going on, and the truth about their frozen voyage. Bronson is nails tough, doing some deliriously sketchy stunts and engaging in blessedly R rated, pretty intense violence for 70’s standards. The cast is stacked, other passengers include Ed Lauren, David Huddleston, Richard Crenna, Charles Durning and Ben Johnson as the ruthless federal marshal in charge of Deakin’s transport. A rock solid genre picture, thrilling, decked out in western production design and filled with savage, bullet ridden, bone breaking set pieces. 

-Nate Hill