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Sundance Film Festival – Of Bronson and Beat Downs

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Wednesday turned out to be a great day for violence at the Sundance Film Festival. First, the anguished, stylized British import Bronson — based on the life of England’s most violent prisoner — played at the Prospector Theater (with hoarse-but-hearty director Nicolas Winding Refn in attendance). And keyboards and smartphones were abuzz with word of an altercation between Jeff Dowd — the real-life inspiration for Jeff Bridges’s title character in The Big Lebowski — and Variety writer John Anderson over the merits (or lack thereof) of Dirt! The Movie.

Bronson tells the story of Michael Peterson — better known as Charles Bronson — who turned a single inept robbery into a decades-long prison sentence. The film’s stylishness is astonishing, and Tom Hardy’s performance is magnetically chilling. At the post-screening Q&A, Refn had nothing but praise for his leading man: “The real challenge was getting into the layers of Bronson; he’s bottomless.”

Aaron Hilis, at Green Cine, praised Hardy for “an extremely physical juggernaut of a performance as Bronson, looking like a nineteenth-century circus strongman…. (For better or worse, Bronson is an even more entertaining screen sociopath than Eric Bana’s Chopper .)” Variety also had kind words for the film: “Portrayed by a transcendent Tom Hardy, who apparently gained 100 pounds of muscle to play the part, Refn’s Bronson is both dangerous and puckish.”

Danger was also in the air after a morning screening of the documentary Dirt!, when John Anderson and Jeff Dowd came to blows in the Yarrow hotel’s restaurant. Witnesses have Dowd confronting Anderson over his reaction to the movie. Dowd refused to back off, and Anderson struck him.

Detailed accounts are available at Variety (courtesy of Anne Thompson) and Spout (courtesy of Karina Longworth). Expect this incident to get pored over like the Zapruder film. Anderson will not be writing a review of Dirt!; Dowd is trying to convene a hastily hatched panel with Anderson and the filmmakers. (See Defamer for more.) The real loser isn’t Dowd (who looks like an insistent jerk) or Anderson (who looks like a hothead); it’s Dirt!, now destined to be known as “The film those two guys fought over.” Let’s hope actual reviews start hitting the wires as a counterpoint to the controversy.

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