The makers of this new film, in which Tom Hardy plays Peterson, offer a stylised, sympathy-craving portrait of the man, but it’s a shoddy and morally nasty film that leaves a terrible taste in the mouth. It takes us from Peterson’s childhood to the present via episodes in his life such as his incarceration in a mental hospital and the kidnapping of a prison art teacher. Much of it consists of brief, self-consciously arty but ultimately artless tableaux bolstered by voiceover or music, which betrays a flimsy, show-and-tell approach to filmmaking.
There are imaginary interludes of Bronson entertaining in a music hall, but these just suggest that Bronson craves fame: nothing too incisive there, then. One laughable sequence set at a prison party suggests an A Level theatre studies project after an outing to see ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
There’s a fatal tension between film and script: Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (‘Pusher’, ‘Bleeder’) brashly channels Kubrick, with slowmo tracking shots set to obvious classical or choral music and looking to lend poetry to violence, while Brock Norman Brock’s pedestrian scenario is forever apologising for Peterson’s behaviour. Brock suggests that it doesn’t matter if Bronson tries to kill or kidnap someone as long as that person is a paedophile or, in the case of the teacher, a fluffy liberal who peppers his speech with Spanish.
Hardy delivers a committed if showy performance, but there are some awful smaller turns which smell dangerously of homophobia. The whole thing made me want to scrub my brain with Vim.