Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Vertigo Films & 4DH Film
Blu-ray: Magnet (Magnolia Home Entertainment)
(as verified by the
Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)
Disc Size: 34,338,793,010 bytes
Feature Size: 27,609,464,832 bytes
Video Bitrate: 33.87 Mbps
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
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
/ 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 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.
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:
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.
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
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?
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..
January 30th, 2010