Skip to main content

Me any my brother, we’re gonna rule London.

Legend
(2015)

(SPOILERS) There’s a tendency to think of British crime movies as hard hitting and gritty, post-Get Carter at least. And, excepting those that followed in the wake of Tarantino’s rise (including Guy Ritchie’s knockabout romps and especially Danny Dyer’s highly particular oeuvre), that’s probably fair; the good ones, at least. The British period crime picture is something else, though. It isn’t a prolific sub-genre (notables include The First Great Train Robbery, The Bank Job, Brighton Rock, Let Him Have It), and its fraternity are spread across variety of eras and subjects, both fiction and fact-based. Legend arrives a quarter of a century on from the previous take on The Krays, starring the Kemp brothers of Spandau Ballet fame. It ought to have been the opportunity to tell the definitive, or at least an authoritative, version of their “legend”. Instead, it amounts to something less than its less prestigious predecessor.


Legend certainly doesn’t come up short with the talent in front of the camera, though. Tom Hardy’s dual performances are electrifying, even if, even with today’s effects at the makers’ disposal, the seams occasionally show when he’s sharing a shot with himself. Ronnie and Reggie Kray have been clearly delineated, such that Ronnie is exclusively homosexual and Reggie exclusively heterosexual. Likewise, Reggie is cool and collected, the occasional violent episode aside, while Ronnie is all-psychotic. That probably helps on a basic storytelling level, but it’s a sign of the lack of nuance pervading the picture generally.


Hardy’s Ronnie is a frequently hilarious creation, all waxy open mouth like an apple’s just been plucked from it and a response time not always in step with the world around him, reflecting his mind. Hiding behind thick glasses helps cement Ronnie as a grotesque caricature, because you can’t see Hardy’s eyes (he reminded me a little of Vic Reeves’ Kinky John, although I ‘ve seen various comedians cited; if nothing else, the part proves Hardy has an untapped flair for comedy).


This distancing emphasises a with Reggie;  when there’s a close-up scene – particularly in romance mode, which the picture possibly ill-advisedly focuses on to the diminishment of their criminal shenanigans –Hardy’s eyes plead this hardened criminal as a sensitive, soulful guy. Probably misunderstood. Until he rapes wife Frances (Emily Browning) that is, in a scene of almost classical reserve (the camera pulls out of the room as he assaults her, in contrast to the gangland acts of violence, perhaps betraying slightly bashfully that this isn’t based on any known incident).


Hardy delivers the brotherly bond between the duo without writer-director Brian Helgeland beating us over the head with the fact of it every few minutes. Yes, we understand; they can’t stand each other, but they love each other. We’d get it even if both of them didn’t keep mentioning it, and if Frances didn’t keep going on about it. It might have benefited the screenplay to spend more time with the broader familial relationship, but one scene aside Violet (Jane Wood) barely gets a look in. Perhaps Helegland had Billie Whitelaw’s performance in The Krays understandably playing on his mind, so elected to avoid comparisons. If so, he’s rather thrown the baby out with the bathwater to focus on areas Peter Medak’s picture didn’t.


Hardy’s double act, as obvious as the character lines are, is at least boisterous and colourful (Ronnie’s matter of fact announcement to mobster Chazz Palmientri – no typecasting there – that he prefers boys is particularly chucklesome). Browning has no such luck. Frances is one long cliché of the girl who didn’t/knew what she was getting herself into, continually pleading with hubby to get out of the business, and then… Except that Frances also has the most rote of voiceovers, every line a mealy platitude. The narration is problematic for other reasons, but one comes away mainly impressed that Browning makes you care as much as you do for Frances despite of the writing doing its utmost to counter this.


The rest of the cast are similarly impressive, from Paul Bettany’s scene-stealing fake-nosed cameo in the early section as rival gangster Charlie Richardson to David Thewlis’ over-confident business manager Leslie Payne (one of those great performances where you’re constantly aghast that Payne is pushing it when every word out of his mouth is further aggravating Ronnie). Taron Egerton – who I couldn’t place despite Kingsman – is Ronnie’s right hand lover “Mad Teddy” Smith, Christopher Eccleston is “Nipper” Read (the copper out to bring down the twins), Paul Anderson particularly notable as Albert Donoghue (Reggie’s chief lieutenant) and Sam Spruell makes the most of a gift of a part as hapless Jack “The Hat” McVitie. There’s also good work from Tara Fitzgerald, hopefully not consigned to cold-hearted matriarch roles with Frankie’s mother coming on the back of Game of Thrones.


Some of these roles don’t work out so well; Kevin McNally’s Harold Wilson seems like an example of trying to reference the scale of the Kray problem without achieving remotely achieving that. John Sessions pops up as Lord Boothby, but this whole thread is dealt with in a rush of narration from Frances. Instead, we’re subject to endless circular domestics between her and Reggie. 


Helegland adapted John Pearson’s 1972 biography of the twins, but appears to have been influenced by such divergent touchstones as Goodfellas (a narration provided by the main gangster’s wife) and The Lovely Bones (a narration provided by the dead protagonist; it’s been claimed that Ronnie murdered Frances, making some of Helegeland’s confabulations here rather laughable if true). Helegland’s Oscar for L.A. Confidential was much deserved, but the thriving-on-its-fiction canvas of that picture is ultimately ill-fitting for the Kray twins.


As a screenwriter, Helegland’s career subsequent to Confidential has been patchy. As a director, even more so. Payback was reworked by Mel Gibson, A Knight’s Tale got amiably by on its soundtrack and 42 was a thoroughly competent – read unremarkable – biopic. Legend suggests he has no real idea of the story he wants to tell or a particular passion for the material. One would expect a clear stylistic approach given the decision to nurture a ghostly narrator, but it’s matter-of-factly redundant. Cinematographer Dick “Poop” Pope did a magnificent job on Mr Turner, but his digital lensing of ‘60s London is blandly poppy, the sort of solid stock colours and pervading flatness one expects from period TV drama. 


There’s no sense of atmosphere, grimness or edge, and Helgeland’s compositions are entirely lacking in inspiration (it feels as if he’s shooting everything in medium shot, even though he isn’t). He’s also intent on immersing the picture in obvious or tonally inappropriate pop hits. And, when the hits aren’t coming, Carter Burwell’s score smothers every scene to the extent you wonder if he was afraid it would be lost in the mix (I have a feeling it’s a score that’s rather good on its own, but in the context of the movie it’s a a constant bludgeoning irritation).


Visually this is much, much closer to the candy-coloured whimsy of Absolute Beginners or Telstar. If you think of the guy who made A Knight’s Tale directing this, you probably have a good idea of how superficial the confection ultimately feels. How Helegland thought that was appropriate over, say, the grain of Get Carter, only he can answer (again, perhaps he looked at The Krays and decided to go in the opposite direction).


But that said, individual scenes are – usually eruptions of violence – are never less than gripping, be it the Richardson Gang pub fight, the central altercation between Ronnie and Reggie, or the individual murders that get them both sent down. Helegland’s picture is watchable, because the subject matter, even as diluted, altered or mishandled as it is here, is interesting. And, on a very basic level, Tom Hardy is in most scenes of the movie, and he’s mesmerising. Legend isn’t a very good Krays movie, and it isn’t a very good gangster movie, but it’s further evidence that you can never get enough Tom Hardy.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.