Hardy gives a towering performance as the violent lout who renamed himself after his two-fisted role model, Charles Bronson. A dyed-in-the-wool sociopath, he lives to bash heads. He loves prison because it gives him the chance to take on guards five at a time. The film doesn't try to explain him; it simply presents him as a human oddity, a behavioral version of the Elephant Man. Hardy digs into the tensions that keep Bronson wired and dangerous, his manipulative charm on the one hand and his unbridled instinctual craving for combat on the other.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn offers a spirited, pop take on his antihero, who sees himself as a kind of performance artist/celebrity. The film unfolds in the imagination of the locked-down prisoner. Bronson sometimes confides to us directly from a black screen, or addresses an admiring opera house audience while wearing cabaret makeup, as he creates his own ferocious mythology. Refn's painting the legend, not the person; Bronson is obviously incapable of telling the truth or even recognizing the truth.
Then the film shifts gears and showcases electrifying hostage standoffs and energetically staged brawls. Refn glorifies the violence just as "300" did, then turns it against the viewer and makes it hurt. Not to mention the cinematography is beautiful and all performances are top notch.
Hardy, who physically transformed himself to play the muscle-bound brute, seethes with subhuman lusts. Inflicting pain on himself and others is his art; he's horrible and thrilling at the same time. The acting in this film is eerily good even in the smaller roles, but Hardy is truly, nightmarishly unforgettable, offering the best portrayal of a psycho since Robert De Niro wore a Mohawk.
A friend of mine had given me the movie last year, I had never even heard of it, it was a while later before I had a chance to see it, and I'm glad I did. I highly recommend the film, go see it now!