Posted in Britain, tagged Brian Helgeland, British Film, Frances Shae, Gangster Film, Gangsters, Gary Kemp, guilty pleasure, homosexuality, John Pearson, Legend, Martin Kemp, Peter Medak, Reggie Kray, Ronnie Kray, Spandau Ballet, The Kray Twins, Tim Bevan, Tom Hardy, violence on September 5, 2015|
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Upon coming into contact with the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, Legend producer Tim Bevan wasn’t initially convinced to make a film. He understood that a certain ‘hook’ was necessary to transform the material into a film of sufficient interest. Upon viewing Legend, it is quite easy to identify that deciding coup: Tom Hardy.
This is not the first time the notorious gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray – the fearsome gangland operators of 1960’s East London – have been portrayed on film. Back in 1990 brothers Martin & Gary Kemp, actors and musicians of Spandau Ballet, played the pair in The Krays by Hungarian director Peter Medak (The Changeling.) That film, in spite of its gritty and rather eerie sense of atmosphere has certainly aged in 25 years, so Legend is not unwelcome in 2015.
Aided by state-of-the-art post-production, Tom Hardy performs a fantastically entertaining double act as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. In Reggie Kray, Hardy finds a measured, patrician character with a life that teeters dangerously between the rational and the outrageous. In Ronnie there is no such rationality; he is mentally unstable, fanciful, enormously dangerous, yet endearingly sensitive and curiously open about his homosexuality.
While the film is unashamed in it’s larger-than-life – and pleasingly hammy – conception of these characters, there is plenty to be surprised by. Not least by Tom Hardy’s remarkable ability to create a rapport between the twins (often seen in immaculately constructed two shots) that is continuously compelling to watch. It is often said that good acting is in fact truthful reacting; so quite how Hardy managed to provide both the action and reaction in so many scenes will remain a compelling reason to watch the film.
The film feels less accomplished in its handling of the history, although the setup is good; narrated from the point of view of Reggie’s young wife Frances Shae, the film features a welcome female view on an otherwise overwhelmingly macho scene. The issue here is that – other than establish the story and highlight Frances somewhat – this perspective never truly affects the rather predictable vision of obscene violence and macho posturing that the film happily indulges in generic fashion; perhaps this was to be expected from a film called Legend.
The film is most interesting in its dealing with Ronnie Kray’s relationships with men. While reveling frequently in distinctly old-fashioned gay jokes, the film makes no bones about his queerness: a refreshing attribute in a British gangster flick. The most admirable view of the Kray Twins available here is in their ability to defend one another, no matter how they personally transgressed the norms of their time and place.
In Legend, director Brain Helgeland has made a curious film, not without the qualities of a ‘guilty pleasure.’ This is a film to be enjoyed for Tom Hardy’s overwhelming, but never boring, domination of screen time and space.
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Kill List looks set to put its director, Ben Wheatley on the map as a British feature film director. The film which utilises the tried structure of a hitman hired to do one last job, cleverly plays with genre expectations to create a film that lingers with an unsettling atmosphere and a few strong twists and turns up its sleeve. It brings together elements of perhaps the best of British cinema, with a realist tone in its performances and cinematography and a mood reminiscent of some of the most sinister British horror films.
Neil Maskell plays Jay, a onetime hitman who has been unemployed for eight months, while attempting to go straight. The increasing pressure to provide for his family comes to a head when he is offered work by best friend Gal (Michael Smiley). As the title suggests he has a list of people to kill, but as the list progresses he finds himself and the situations he faces becoming increasingly out of control. To say too much about the development of the plot would be to give away the effective set of surprises it has in store. Let’s just say that when Jay says “they’re bad people, they should suffer” after making a hit, the words take on a personal significance that he doesn’t yet realise.
The only criticism I have for Kill List is that it ends too abruptly. Wheatley sets up such a strong premise that the last act had an enormous potential for suspense, which was not explored to its full potential. This is not to say that the film is not successful in terms of scares (it absolutely is), but there could have been a few more for the masochists among us. Unsurprising for a low budget British feature Kill List runs at around 90 minutes; perhaps with a slightly longer runtime Wheatley could have made an even stronger impact. With Kill List Ben Wheatley has established himself as a director to watch, albeit not for the faint of heart.
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Since the days of James Dean, teen Films have been a sure fire hit with film goers. Teen stories are inherent with drama in every genre imaginable; romance, horror, comedy, musical, sci-fi, fantasy, the list goes on. In Britain a distinctly gritty form of teen film can be recognised; from Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) to Shane Meadows’ This is England (2006) social realism has always been prominent.
Despite the quality of these films, it is easy to feel jaded by many decades’ worth of gritty realism. For this reason, I didn’t think I had anything to learn when I sat down to watch NEDS (a Scottish term meaning Non-Educated Delinquents), directed by Peter Mullen. To my surprise I left the cinema educated anew by this powerful and eloquent film about teen life.
Conor McCarron stars as John McGill, a bright but underprivileged teen whose life slides into gang violence. The story sounds familiar but Mullen’s fresh approach demands our interest. He creates an unusually expressionistic visual style and as John McGill slides further into violence he becomes frighteningly monstrous. As John becomes increasingly alienated from his peers the plot takes a number of turns that we could not expect, including a trippy encounter with Jesus Christ and a showdown in which John becomes more deranged than any slasher film serial killer. Despite this, the true success of the film is that Mullen allows the audience to maintain a sense of compassion for John McGill.
The film concludes by forcing John to confront his past and make a tough decision. Despite his recklessness in the face of the gangs we discover that John still has the capacity to feel fear and therefore redeem himself. More than simply another gritty teen film, NEDS is an articulate parable about a young man’s struggle through the anger and violence of his adolescence to truly find his humanity, fears and compassion included.
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