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A note on Tom Hardy and the film ‘Bronson’

December 24th, 2010 No comments

Back when The Wrestler was released two years ago I read this quote describing Mickey Rourke in the film; “A harmonic convergence of player and part that happens only once in a blue moon.” That’s from David Ansen of NewsWeek. Once in a blue moon?  Ansen must’ve missed Tom Hardy in Bronson, released in the same year.  If Rourke’s performance is a blue moon then Hardy’s is Halley’s Comet.

It’s a one man show! Starring Britain’s most violent prisoner and most expensive mental patient. He stands before a captive audience, breaking the forth-wall as he addresses us directly and announces, “I’ve always wanted to be famous.” But he can’t sing, ball or act so his options are limited. Yes,  he has a violent streak, he’s had it since childhood, so it’s a life of crime for Michael Peterson (who later adopts the moniker Charles Bronson).

When Peterson is first arrested it’s for a relatively small crime; he steals 18 quid from a post office and then is sentenced to 7 years.  The sentencing is comedic, in fact a lot of this film is comedic. It’s a tragicomedy that just happens rank among the most violent films.  In fact, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn shows tremendous skill in implementing an almost Kubrickian sensibility in both his visual style, his surreal approach to violence and  his ability to extract raw performances from his actors.

But how does a man go from sticking up a post office for 18 quid to being the most violent criminal in Her Majesty’s Prison Service? I think it looks like simple boredom. But he is presented to us as a man who loves prison. He loves his “hotel room,” as he calls it, and he loves to strip down naked smear himself in butter and go bare-knuckle to riot-gear against a slew of prison guards. And Hardy presents this to us with such bravery and uncompromising dedication that you believe every second.

There’s an amazing moment where we cut back to the stage, as is done regularly throughout the film, where Bronson is split like Two-Face. One side is himself. The other side is made up to be a nurse from the mental hospital at which he attempted to kill another patient. He whips back and forth, recreating a conversation – “when’s my trial!?” Bronson screams. “There isn’t going to be a trial.” The Nurse responds. “But I want my hotel room back.” – It’s a marvelous and inventive way to move the story along quickly, mixing again this surreal style with a bitter comedy and inspired theatrical performance.

Bronson ends up being a surprisingly innovative biopic that some critics have dismissed as just being “a pointless exercise in morbidity.” But such an over-simplification of this film is board-line criminal.  Refn’s bold profile of a violent man doesn’t shy away from the brutality of his life, but he does undercut the violence with his brilliant use of music, mixing rock, opera, classical and The Pet Shop Boys.

This is just another instance, in a long list of examples, that proves most awards are jokes.  Sean Penn won the Oscar this year for his role in Milk. It’s a very good performance, but doesn’t belong in the same category as Hardy’s performance. It’s the equivalent of ignoring Charlotte Gainsbourg at the Oscars last year. But to hell with award shows simply recognizing studios trying their damnedest to promote their films to increase their box-office after spending a mint on an awards campaign.  Awards can be a kiss of death to some.  What has Gooding, Jr or Berry or Bullock or Paltrow done since their awards?  Sometimes the award can be a mark of the end, not the beginning. Hardy’s performance here marks the beginning of a very exciting career and it will exist now as one of those fringe performances that wasn’t promoted relentlessly to the public.  It is one you need to discover years later on Netflix on the recommendation of a rambling, lowly, fringe writer….

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A Note on Drive

September 25th, 2011 No comments

Stress has been attacking Lindsey’s body as she completes her Labor and Delivery training while being 8 weeks pregnant.  My solution, a date night starting with a couples massage at a small place on Ventura Boulevard.  It was one of the best massages Lindsey claims to have ever had, and for me, it was a painful and brutal experience – not the enjoyable kind. The masseuse nearly dislocated my knee during what I can only describe as a “lay all my body weight on you” massage.  But it wasn’t for me, it was for Lindsey, and in that it was a success – so off to dinner.

No time!  We need something quick and at the Galleria that means Fuddruckers; two burgers, sweet potato fries and quick walk to the Arclight to catch Drive.

Two previews stand-out: one, an adaptation of the novel that truly introduced me to reading, The Rum Diary. I had of course read books before I was 19 years old, but I never understood the depths in which you could consume and become intoxicated with literature until I read Dr. Thompson’s journey through the surreal world of Puerto Rico. Now Bruce Robinson is bringing it to life with Johnny Deep as Paul Kemp – Excitement! Then, as quickly as excitement set in, I’m made completely flaccid by the trailer for Red Tails.  A high-flying, racially tense action film laden with CGI planes and explosion with contrived patriotism.  It repels me. Wall to wall action is more boring than L’Avventura.  It worried me that Drive may be similar.

In a “heist” film, or “action” film, (which I will call Drive because there are a couple heists, yet this is not your typical heist film) the first sequence usually sets the tone for the entire picture.  Fast and The Furious and The Transporter (for example) both start with a “high octane” car chase with extraordinary stunts and daring getaways.  With Drive you get a smart, calculated getaway.  It’s a new pace for what has been marketed as an action film and that is where we find brilliance in Nicolas Winding-Refn’s direction.  Most director would’ve fallen into certain traps with this script by exploiting the sexual aspects, amping up the chases and neglecting the character development and very emotional story. But Refn had tight control over his direction and vision for this script.

Cut to: Lindsey and I walking out of the theater where Lindsey and I were the most divided over a film since the deplorable Sweet Home Alabama. Our conversation was being echoed in a conversation between a couple behind us where the Man complains about the slow pace saying he “was expecting Action Action Action.”  No!  Yes, this was marketed as a “heist” film full of action, but it is successful exactly because it isn’t action action action.  It is story, character and brutality.

The biggest problem with the “Triple A” film the man was looking for is the expense involved to make it worth watching.  It is far too expensive to pack 2 hours of action with practical stunts so you end up relying on fake, bizarrely improbably CGI action (again; Red Tails). My senses have stop responding to that sort of action film.  It’s a desensitization that has slowly decayed my interest over that past years and I now sit unstimulated for 120 minutes.

notice the similarities in Drive poster above

But, delivering on what we’ve come expect from Refn with Bronson (a must see) and his Pusher Trilogy, Refn presents a very fresh and unique vision – Refn’s Drive is not an action movie, it’s an emotional story with action in it.  At times it felt like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, with a sinister foreboding constantly stirring under a city that seems to have infected our anti-hero, inspiring him to become a savior.

The music pulsed, bolstering each scene even when the score superficially seems in contrast to the events unfolding.  A homicidal stalking set to opera? Yes! A classical music prelude to a violent head-stomping? Yes! Refn seems a master at selecting music that pulls the subtext of a scene, explores the emotional state of a character, and brings it to the surface.

Gosling plays the character Driver with a gentle subtlety that is off-set by his explosive fury when faced with the violent men with whom he’s become entangled.  There is a staggering complexity to a character that can go from beating a man with a hammer to a childlike flirtation with his neighbor Irene, played by the charming Carey Mulligan.  Drive becomes a true anti-hero, a tragically flawed man doing the right thing.  It’s refreshing and a bit inspiring actually at a time when it seems no banker, politician, corporate exec or anyone else is outside the grasp of all-consuming corruption.  It is nice to think anyone is capable of doing the right thing and being a hero.  Refn uses the music to say it repeatedly, addressing the man looking for the action action action, this is a story about a real hero – or at least a real human being, becoming human when we decide to sacrifice our own safety for the safety of others.

The film is not without it’s flaws.  In the cutting especially it might feel a bit pretentious, a bit of a throwback to the 80’s.  The script wasn’t perfect, especially in some of the expository moments and it felt weakest in the dialogue, but the strengths of the film overshadow those flaws.  Some audiences might think the film too violent, which Refn seems to delight in exploiting, but hitting those extremes felt organic in each scene especially for these characters, so it is easy to accept the brutality.  In the end, having firmly cemented his style, we are able to look at Refn’s body of work which seems to be tending more toward the optimistic.  I’m thrilled to see what he has coming next.



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