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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Bronson [Blu-ray]

(Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Vertigo Films & 4DH Film

Blu-ray: Magnet (Magnolia Home Entertainment)



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:32:34.090

Disc Size: 34,338,793,010 bytes

Feature Size: 27,609,464,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 33.87 Mbps

Chapters: 13

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 9th, 2010



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video




DTS-HD Master Audio English 3887 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3887 kbps
/ 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



English (SDH), Spanish, none




• Charles Bronson Monologues (17:15)

• Making-of Documentary (15:15)

• Interviews with Writer/Director Nicolas Winding Refn, Actors Tom Hardy, Matt King and Paul Daniels (48:00)

• Behind-the-Scenes Footage (11:40)

• Training Tom Hardy (5:45)

• Theatrical Trailer



The Film: 8

The DVD that has been sitting unwatched on my shelf for longer than any other is Bob Fosse's Star 80. I had watched it in the theater when it came out and found it overwhelmingly powerful. But once I had my own copy, I was reluctant to go through that experience again. First, because I identified emotionally with both Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten, which left me feeling like a caged animal with no possibility of escape. The other was Eric Roberts' riveting performance of a man scarier as hell. From his opening monologue rehearsing his persona in front of a mirror I was transfixed. Roberts and director Bob Fosse understood something about impotence and power that was so primal I could neither take my eyes off him nor watch how he hunted his prey.

I was thinking about Star 80 when Tom Hardy, as Bronson, practices his persona in front of a mute audience. Bronson is what you might call the "stage name" for Michael Peterson, a man sentenced to seven years for armed robbery as a young man, but who has managed (I'm choosing my words carefully here) to prolong his sentence to 35 years, 30 of them in solitary confinement. The reason is simple, the explanation is not. Nor do co-writers Brock Norman Brock and Nicholas Winding Refn attempt any, other than what Bronson says about himself: that fighting is just about all he's good for in order to make a name for himself. So if you attack enough inmates and guards, you're going to get your time extended.

Paul Snider's rage is carefully kept under wraps until it consumes him. Bronson's rage is what he's all about. Though in his case, I rather see it as a "war face," an act that furthers his ambition, for Bronson is the story of a performance artist of a unique kind (though I suppose that's how Charles Manson sees himself.) One thing, though: I hated Snider. He's everything I fear about mankind, for fear of impotence and loss of control is at the core of what makes men violent. I liked Bronson. I wouldn't want to be in the same room with him, but I enjoyed my time with him, even if from the safety of a separate reality.

The question is: how to make a movie about this man who lives today in prison, easily England's most famous and most violent convict? I mentioned Star 80 because it, too, is about a real life person – one who, like Bronson, cannot wrest himself free of his rage. But the similarities stop there. Snider is portrayed as a stalker, a murderer waiting to be set free. Bronson rather enjoys his status. He hasn't killed anyone yet, though he comes close. His rages are impersonal, his victims nameless, and – here is the most important difference in respect to the two films – he has a fascinating sense of humor about himself.



He appears frequently throughout the movie, looking directly into the camera, always with a strongman moustache, sometimes in circus makeup. He smiles an exaggerated smile, then suddenly grows intensely impassive. He is the personification of ultra-violent melodrama. . . which, naturally, leads us right to A Clockwork Orange and Refn's use of music, classical and pop. When Bronson appears to the strains of Der Ring des Nibelungen, I just about fell off my chair. Siegfried is Wagner's hero, who, indirectly, but fatefully, brings about the destruction of the heavens. Brilliant!

Refn laces his movie with numerous side trips away from the prison milieu, including Peterson's brief stint as a bareknuckle boxer while on parole. This is when he takes the name of "Charlie Bronson" after the American actor. Despite it's sense of humor, Bronson is no comedy – black or otherwise. And there are scenes that are likely to make you avert your eyes. There is a good deal of blood and, on one occasion, feces where you don't expect it. To give both this movie and New York, I Love You an "R" Rating is galatically idiotic. Be warned.

Image: 7/7
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Magnolia's generally high contrast image might divert attention from pervasive chroma noise that may be a consequence of post-production rather than the transfer itself. In any case there's a good deal of it in dark scenes. The image is not so much grainy as noisy and is far from what we think of as highly resolved or sharp, despite the high bit rate. I didn't observe any edge-enhancement. I checked with the IMDb which indicates 16 mm negative film was used as well as 35 mm, so I suspect that the film stock, the upscaling to 35 mm and additional post-processing accounts for much of the result and approximates what we would have seen in the theater.














Audio & Music: 9/9
Magnolia provides Bronson one of the most intriguing sound mixes on Blu-ray. From the moment Tom Hardy first speaks to us, it's like we're in his head, or he's in ours. Take your pick. His voice is like a narcotic; his melody, hypnotic; the content provocative. Each cell, each corridor, each room has it's own acoustic space. Body blows are given distinction, as do the cell doors that close and open with some frequency. Bass is powerful, but proportional. Dialogue is clear and, except when Bronson speaks directly to us, correctly (read: naturally) sized and positioned. The music is carefully woven into the texture, sometimes forward, other times in the background, always clear. Kubrick would be proud.


Operations: 7
Travel Advisory: Make sure your player has the latest firmware updates. My OPPO was out of date and none of the menu operations worked until I upgraded the firmware. Let's here it for subtitles, which I gather are not on the UK Blu-ray release – sometimes the lower class English gets a bit thick. Oh, yes, subtitles are operational even for the lyrics of songs – a real plus. I felt 12 chapters to be a bit slim considering the frequently changing events.



Extras: 7
In place of a running commentary, there are several extra features that address everything from Tom Hardy's transformation into Bronson (by comparison, De Niro's retired Jake La Motta looks like an amateur make-up job), getting the facts straight with the help of Bronson's friend, Mark Fish, who functions as something like a technical advisor on the film, interviews with Bronson's mom and cousin, Hardy's training to look like a competent brawler, as well as the other usual suspects that go into the production. "The Charles Bronson Monologues" are of special note in that they spoken by Bronson himself against stills from the movie. All worthy segments, only wanting a better looking picture for the interviews. I still can't quite let go of the Hardy/Bronson thing. Look closely at the screencap of Hardy (in the bonus section) and compare it with any of the caps of his character. There's no way this is the same guy. Am I right, or am I right? Bloody incredible.



Bottom line: 8
As Tom Hardy makes clear in his interview, the movie is not to be taken as a "Free Bronson" exploitation effort. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to see Bronson, the movie, as a glorification of violence. Genre-bending for sure, Bronson is both historical and artful, yet could as easily be seen as a horror film. But whatever it is, clearly this movie is not for everyone. That noted, and despite the image noise and weak resolution (most likely pre-transfer), cooly recommended..

Leonard Norwitz
January 30th, 2010






About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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