Bronson (2008) chronicles the life and times of Michael Peterson: The UK’s most violent prisoner. His new name, Charlie Bronson came from his short stint of freedom when he worked as an unlicensed boxer. He needed a new and appropriate fighting name. Charlie Bronson was chosen for his gritty performance from Death Wish, which seemed to fit Peterson to a T.
Michael Peterson was first incarcerated for a series of armed robberies, namely that of a Post Office. No one was hurt, no bullets were fired, and no one was killed. For this crime he got an initial sentence of seven years.
Peterson is a shockingly violent prisoner and an all-around fascinating human being. In the book Bronson, the Robin Ackroyd wrote:
Charlie is a lost soul, a man from a different age. Ten thousand years ago he would have been the strongest man in the jungle; two thousand years ago, in Roman times, he would have been the unbeaten gladiator; two hundred years ago he would have been a circus strong man.
I suppose this is a very appropriate description of this man. To most he would appear to be a manic psychopath with self-destructive patterns who could give nothing back to society.
The film seems to show this side of the man. It shows through brilliant cinematography and utterly appropriate scene design and cut scenes that Charlie sought out trouble and wants nothing but to fight. I think it is further from the truth than the fact that the man just can’t control himself.
As the film explains, as Charlie (played brilliantly by Tom Hardy) himself explains in make-up and three-piece suit on a stage to a crowd of the faceless wealthy, he has been in prison since 1974. As of filming, it totaled some 34 years…30 of it in solitary. 23-hour lockdown in the maximum security that the UK has to offer. Maximum security, 23-hour lockdown…for robbery. 34 years…for armed robbery. OK, I admit that he is still in prison for his misbehaving. He holds the records for roofing prisons, for hostage-taking standoffs, and I believe he also holds the record for most consecutive years served in solitary.
Charlie Bronson has never killed a person. Never, not a soul. He has never raped. He’s no pedophile. No serial killer. Never stabbed, cut, or maimed with anything but his bare fists. 34+ years for fighting? Hey, I and the film leave the morality up to you.
The movie is beautifully made. It is visceral, striking, bloody, and Tom Hardy embodies Charlie both physically to an almost eerie similarity. It is uncanny. Having read Charlie’s writing and seen the film that brings to life his words and mannerisms, Tom recreates a real person in a performance that is rivaled only by Johnny Depp from Fear and Loathing in his role as Raoul Duke.
It is not for the squeamish, but if you’ve got the stomach for a stellar film with a stellar lead, genius cinematography, and a perfectly executed screenplay and script, then I suggest this film.
Take this knowledge with you as you watch. Housed with the worst filth represented rapist, wife beaters, serial killers, pedophiles, sits Charlie Bronson who has done nothing but armed robbery for one week and then fought as often as he could muster after that. Never killed a soul. He continues to serve a sentence in solitary confinement that is about to top 40 years. Bronson is now nearly sixty, and could still kick your ass. He holds a record for most push-ups in one hour. He lifts weights and challenges world records to raise money…for programs outside the prison walls that support youth. Orphanages have received money on his behalf from the sales of his books and the stellar shape he keeps himself in. He may not have been meant for this time, but Charlie will tell you that he is the ultimate survivor, and he survives still in conditions that would break nearly all others. Check out Bronson streaming on Netflix.