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…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

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.

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.