Tuesday 29 September 2015

The Current Cinema - Legend - Are the Brits any better......

Tom Hardy & Emily Browning
For 131 minutes Legend (Brian Helgeland, UK, 2015) winds its way along the trail of the life of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, a couple of Brit eastenders who indulged in criminal mayhem in London through the fifties into the mid-60s before they were both put away for the rest of their lives. The trope in the movie is to have them both played by the same actor, the rather brilliant Tom Hardy - an inheritor of the techniques of Olivier, Gielgud, Burton, Bates, Finney, Irons, Branagh and others and perhaps the current greatest actor of his generation.

Early on, Ronnie mentions that he's the ugly one of the twins and he's right.His face is round, puffy and featureless, adorned by spectacles. His brother Reggie's is chiselled, prominent in the cheekbones, handsome. Ronnie is homosexual and early on makes a little speech to Reggie's new girlfriend Frances (Emily Browning, the Australian actress whose technical assurance in her dialogue rivals that of Tom Hardy) on the need for people to be open about themselves. Reggie spots Frances as a sixteen year old studying at Pitman's Secretarial College and eventually causes her to suicide. The fitful narration in the film, designed to give us just a few more clues about what was going on, is uttered by Frances Sunset Boulevard fashion.

There have been previous attempts to put the Kray brothers up on the screen, most obviously The Krays (Peter Medak, UK, 1990), made before either had died, and starring the twins Martin and Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet. I feel fairly certain as well that Joseph Losey's The Criminal (UK, 1960) owes more than a little to scriptwriter Alun Owen filching some elements of the Kray story and lifestyle. There are probably more than a few others. So this is not un-trodden territory and we have to have something new to distinguish it. The new thing is Hardy's virtuoso performances as the brothers, distinct, physically different and for much of the film envious of each other but afraid to take the apparent next step of killing off that which is disliked. Blood is blood.

But, it's a plod and though there are all the set pieces and much  a clef material featuring who's who in London society, politics and gangsterland (including even Harold Wilson the exasperated PM who wants something done about the Krays until the police put photos of one of his Labour MPs, Tom Driberg, enjoying himself at one of Ronnie's gay orgies.) But it remains somehow a picture looking in from too far outside. Too few sequences involve much intimacy between the brothers and Frances. There is for instance a scene where Reggie introduces Frances to Ronnie who, having cheated his way out of jail, is living a caravan in the woods. Huh. How and why come to mind.

As I said about Cut Snake, doing crime isn't easy. Losey did it as effortlessly as Altman and Hawks. but others struggle.

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