Posts Tagged ‘Gangsters’

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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THE WOLF OF WALL STREETWell, someone’s got their mojo back. After a series of solid if unspectacular films, the diminutive Italian-American has recaptured the verve and energy of his 90’s output. The Wolf of Wall Street can be placed alongside Scorsese’s epic crime sagas Goodfellas and Casino, both in ambition and, more importantly, execution. What’s more, his long frustrating collaboration with heartthrob Di Caprio finally bears some fruit. So often looking like an ill conceived relationship of mutual flattery, we finally see the duo working to both their strengths.

The much discussed story is based on the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a self starting stock broker in 80’s New York. Arriving into the city as a starry eyed innocent, Belfort is soon inducted into the hedonistic ways of his charismatic superior (a show stealing Matthew McConaughey). When the company falls prey to the stock market crash, Belfort starts his own company selling dodgy deals to unassuming halfwits up and down the country. Soon the company begins to flourish and the money, drugs and, ahem, female companionship, start to flow.

Ably abetted by his trusted sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort juggles his burgeoning business with a troubled home life with his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and a persistent FBI agent on his trail (Kyle Chandler). The film is structured a lot like Casino and Goodfellas. We have the auspicious beginnings, the ascent into success and hedonism and immorality, then the inglorious fall. A cynic might label it formulaic, but it works. I think as viewers we find a strange pleasure in seeing something constructed, even if what is being constructed is deeply troubling. Belfort’s ascent, with the wild parties, drugs and booze is utterly irresistible.

Keeping in mind the somewhat unfavourable view the public has of the banking system right now, this should go down like a sack of lead. Yet Scorsese’s film making prowess makes the journey outrageously entertaining. All the Scorsese tricks are here; the slow Caravaggio-esque pans across crowds and the raucous rock music on the soundtrack. Yet there is something even more psychedelic about this particular film. To really recreate the hazy comedown of Belfort’s drug years, Scorsese makes use of disjointed editing and gauzy visuals to authenticate the experience. There is a particularly joyous sequence in which Belfort consumes a melee of quaaludes, only to find he has to escape the FBI in his car.

Leonardo Di Caprio turns in one of his greatest performances yet as Belfort. Often he has looked misplaced in Scorsese’s films, a pretty boy trying to act like the tough guy. This role is much more in his domain; Belfort is charismatic, cocky and ultimately, wild. Belfort is much like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, someone riding their luck and unable to see the end game. Di Caprio manages to instil a charm and pathos in him that makes him hard to dislike. Jonah Hill is also superb as the eager assistant, loyal to the bone and with his own wild streak. He is a perfect comic foil.

There are a few slight niggles. As with many of these macho gangster rise and fall films, the female characters get completely waylaid. You can predict every beat of their relationship with from the off; the seduction, the kids, the descent and the divorce. Although it is loosely based on true events it feels completely cliched- does anyone really care about this sub pot? Probably not. The film ends with a beautifully cheeky moment as Belfort addresses a seminar of people wanting to learn how to become the next ‘Jordan Belfort’. It perfectly conveys the paradoxical nature of the film: one part of us condemns these shysters, and the other part revels in their degeneracy.

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