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Fighting For Life

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Bronson isn't your typical, formulaic Hollywood biopic that reduces someone's entire life into a lengthy piece of melodramatic fluff. That alone is reason enough to seek out this refreshing take on the genre.

Instead, Bronson is a resounding success, despite its original approach to dissect the life of Charles Bronson, aptly known as "the most violent prisoner in Britain." The film stands on the shoulders of its two stars, actor Tom Hardy and director Nicolas Winding Refn. Hardy commands the screen, creating one of the best on-screen transformations in recent cinematic memory and Refn gives him the glorious stage upon which to shine.

Refn is best known for his native Danish language Pusher Trilogy, recounting the stories of three individuals caught in Copenhagen's underground drug business. Dealing with themes of violence, gangs and, of course, drugs, each film was an intimate portrait of its main character, all anti-heroes. Refn masterfully explored characters that were hardened drug dealers and criminals on the outside, but hopeless human beings seeking redemption on the inside.

It's no surprise that he would want to take on the story of a guy who is just as morally ambiguous. Like his Pusher films, which were successes of independent filmmaking, Bronson is a creation of that school. Shot for just $1 million, Refn displays his talents as a creative filmmaker interested more in his protagonistís psyche than he is in a conventional story.

While Refn is the puppet master, Tom Hardy (RocknRolla) is the star that brings Bronson to life. His incredible performance will surely be the most overlooked of the year. He completely inhabits his character, putting on 30 pounds of muscle, to fit the part. Much of the film is constructed as a one-man play, with Bronson taking the stage in ever changing face paint and recalling his innermost thoughts to a packed theatre.

Hardy is front and center for these scenes, creating a Bronson so wildly entertaining and unpredictable it's impossible to take your eyes off of him. Bronson is a man starving for attention and, despite his gruesome crimes, he's found it. Refn doesnít want to merely recount Bronson's story, he wants to understand who he is. Bronson is a victim of the celebrity culture, and Refn intends to explore that.

Sure, the film tells the story of how Bronson came to be the most notorious prisoner in Britain: He stole a measly £26.18 from a post office and was handed a 7-year sentence in 1974. However, since then he has only been a free man for a few months, after continuous sentence extentions for many more crimes committed within prison walls. Most of these crimes are related to fighting, as the film makes you well aware.

But, Refn isn't interested in the hows of Bronson's life, he's interested in the whys. Why would a man continue to destroy his chances at living a life of freedom and relish in the life behind bars? Simple: He wants fame.

The film recalls Andrew Dominik's Chopper, a similar tale of a man grasping for the limelight through a life of violence. Like Bronson, Chopper, played brilliantly by Eric Bana, rises to fame in his native Australia through acts of violence and crime. The main difference is that while Chopper has spent a significant portion of his life behind bars, he was eventually released and lives a life of fame and fortune recounting his past.

Bronson doesn't appear to want to escape. He longs for his solitary confinement behind bars, waiting to strike that first blow not out of anger, but out of a compulsion to be the best at something ó to have meaning in his life. If that meaning is to be the most violent prisoner ever, so be it.