“Britain’s most violent prisoner” is apparently a real person. His real name is Michael Peterson, but he likes to be referred to as Charles Bronson (as in, yes, that Charles Bronson). In his midnight movie styled biopic, edgy director Nicloas Winding Refn takes a stab at sensationalizing his violent tendencies. This film decides not to delve into any of the other sides of Michael other than that of his most horrible. It doesn’t work; it only comes across as exploitative. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of amazing films centered on unredeemable characters, but this one is like an episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand: pointless with latent homoerotic undertones.
In the trailer, I saw some critic’s reference in promotion of the movie to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. That’s absurd. The similarities of this film to A Clockwork Orange end at the post-release, reformed prisoner addressing an auditorium of tux clad sympathizers about how his upbringing was terrible. Alex in Clockwork at least begins to develop and emote palpable feelings as Kubrick’s film progresses, even if they are because he’s been virtually lobotomized in an effort to quell his violent nature. Michael, however, (in the film, anyway) never once seems to care about anything more than hurting someone, even when you think that maybe he’s coming around, he fails you. It seems, in fact, that the only people he never actually hurt (as this film would tell it) were his parents and whatever woman he was with at the time.
Michael Peterson like many lifelong or recurring criminals seems to feel like prison is where he belongs. This is the strand of narrative that interested me the most, but it’s never expounded upon. He’s said to have spent almost 30 of his 34 years in prison in solitary confinement; most of what we get to see is how he always managed to end up in solitary (or prison in the first place). Nothing ever really comes together in this film though; he keeps being moved around from prison to prison, and the cells keeps getting smaller and smaller.
There appears to be a glimmer of hope towards the end as Michael takes up art as a prison pastime; however, when the warden shrugs off the painting which he has just created, the next thing we know is he’s back to his old self again. So is it really just an insatiable need for attention that drives our Bronson wannabe to constant brutality? I am led to believe so, but after the credits roll, I fain to care.