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

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…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

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…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He's going to emasculate our nuclear deterrent and bring the whole damn country to its knees… because of his dreams.

Dreamscape (1984)
(SPOILERS) I wasn’t really au fait with movies’ box office performance until the end of the ‘80s, so I think I had an idea that Dennis Quaid (along with Jeff Bridges) was a much bigger star than he was, just on the basis of the procession of cool movies he showed up in (The Right Stuff, Enemy Mine, Innerspace, D.O.A.) The truth was, the public resisted all attempts to make him The Next Big Thing, not that his sly-grinned, cocky persona throughout the decade would lead you to believe his dogged lack of success had any adverse effect on his mood. Dreamscape was one of his early leading-man roles, and if it’s been largely forgotten, it also inherits a welcome cult status, not only through being pulpy and inventive on a fairly meagre budget, but by being pretty good to boot. It holds up.

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

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…