3 October 2015

Glamourising Scum?

Back in the 1960's the Kray Twins ruled London's underworld like a living, breathing, 'Spot The Difference Competition' between a couple of violent bell-ends. Reggie was meant to be the 'nicer' of the two brothers, with Ronnie having had his brain replaced with a lump of pig shit and a hand-grenade. However let's face it, neither were exactly anything less than a couple of over-achieving pricks that bullied their way to the top before dying the sad and premature deaths that they had coming. However as well as being gangsters, the two were obsessed with celebrity culture and were regularly seen rubbing shoulders with actors, politicians, and whatever kind of shrill-voiced, cockney Womble Barbara Windsor is. As a result the two men went onto to become one of the iconic faces of the swinging sixties. Probably thanks to their working class background, the nutters have spent the last few decades brewing in the British subconscious to the point were they've basically become anti-heroes. Sure, they might have just been a couple of local lads that upset the establishment by doing things their own way... It's just that their own way involved shooting people in the head and knifing them in the belly, with the Kray's moral code being as deformed and twisted as their battered, bull-dog faces.

Legend is the latest film to depict the rise and fall of these Cockney bastards after an admirable attempt to capture their 'hard man' reputation was released in the early nineties featuring Spandau Ballet. This time however, instead of the puffy-haired memory of a nauseatingly shite New Romantic movement, the twins are instead played by a couple of Tom Hardy's. Collectively known as the Hardy Boys, I guess. As is always the way with gangster films, Legend depicts the sort of rise, obvious fall, and all of the twattish antics inbetween that the two nutters get up to. The problem that Legend faces is that it needs to make the horrible fucks tolerable enough that we can watch and occasionally empathise with them, whilst at the same time it has to ensure that it doesn't glamourise or forget that they were scum. It's chosen method of doing this seems to be to present them through the eyes of Frances, Reggi's gullible spouse, as she curve-balls from being the seduced bimbo to the disillusioned and hate-filled wife. If my experience of humanity is anything to go by I'd say that nothing can make you resent a person more than actually spending time with them.

At first, all Frances's stupid, love struck eyes can see are a cheeky chappy and his dapper suits but as life grinds on she begins to realise that being married to a selfish, murdering prick actually might not be as fun as it sounds. To quote her annoying as fuck voice-over, “It takes a lot of love to hate a man this much”. Essentially she's a slightly less tolerable version of Henry Hill's wife from Goodfellas with Reggie's evilness seeming to increase as she starts to hate him. “Why do I always fall for the bastards” her face seems to say whilst oblivious to the fact that it's because she's ignored common sense and been a stupid bitch for the last ninety minutes. I suppose the film doesn't really attempt to show Ronnie as a likeable or good person, instead it simply makes him tolerable by having his violent outbursts and plans seem as stupid as possible. Essentially it attempts to undermine his batshit personality with humour whilst occasionally hinting towards a child-like insecurity behind his cold nutter eyes. I'd say that you should imagine him being like Lenny from Of Mice And Men crossed with that Tank from Goldeneye, however film critic Mark Kermode summed him up much more aptly as being like “Matt Lucas doing an unkind impression of Mark Lamarr”.

Frances herself seems the most problematic with her character's descent into hatred being about as subtle as an orgy in a minefield. There's no nuanced trajectory, with her depression mostly being expressed via her increasingly darker eye make-up and paler skin. As mentioned, her voice-over too is possibly one of the worst I've heard since Harrison Ford decided to fuck about with the studio for his Blade Runner recordings. It's not so much that her delivery is bad but rather that its writing is so cliched that you'd think it'd been written by a cockney brain-tryst of Dick Van Dyke, Vinnie Jones and a sub-human, super-fan of Eastenders. The real crime however comes later on in the film when (slight spoiler alert) it's implied that the poor bimbo is attacked and raped by her husband. The problem with this for me is that the attack is only suggested towards, with the bulk of it happening off screen. So it's okay for us to see the brothers comically shatter peoples skulls with a claw hammer but it's not appropriate to show how Reggie treats his wife? Could this be due to some degree of sensitivity towards the depiction of sexualised violence? Or more likely is it that the filmmakers know that an audience is less likely to be sympathetic to a man capable of being such an evil cock-wart?! If the film really wanted to show both Reggie's superficial, likely lad charms, and his truer shit-stained, pitch-black, scum-drenched soul, then it could have dealt with this scene a lot more honestly.

Dubious depiction of two genuinely unlikeable cock-goblins aside however, there's no denying that the film is entertaining. There's almost nothing in this movie that's not been done better or seen in a million other gangster films, however what Legend lacks in originality it makes up for in Tom Hardy. His dual performance might be fifty percent your average roguish leading man and fifty percent cartoon psychopath, but it's impossible not to enjoy. His Ronnie might be about as believably real as Mickey Rourke's pork chop face, however if the title of the movie is anything to go by then realism isn't really a priority. Kind of like Hardy's equally over the top performance in Bronson- it's more about inhabiting a caricature than anything else, with Ronnie clearly being the twin he's having the most fun with. It's testament to both performances too that rarely do you wonder about the technical achievement of having the actor interact with himself. Hardy is simply so good at what he does that he's able to create a chemistry with himself, and at no point do you marvel at how insane that is. At the time of watching you simply get caught up in the two separate characters and take them for what they are. It's just a shame that everything we see is based on a true story, with the hilarious moments that the Kray's batter the living fuck out of people being recreations of the time the Kray's actually battered the living fuck out of people. It's kind of like going over news reports of gang crime and sticking a laughter track over it to make it a bit more fun.

Despite the way in which it seems to have been seduced by the Kray myth however, there really is no doubting that the film is fun. It's throw away and has pretty much no chance of ever reaching the classic status of Goodfellas, The Long Good Friday, or whatever else its makers have seen. Obviously set in the capital, the film features a London as seen through the eyes of a yank director who has clearly prioritised the American market as being the main audience. Imagine the fairytale London of Mary Poppins but with Burt's brains splattered all over his paintings because he paid protection money to the wrong person. This is fine, obviously, and perhaps the good people of the United States will like it even more if they're less familiar with the two lead characters and how sugar coated their reputation has become to some people over the years. If Legend had just spent as much time destroying their image as it did glamourising it then I'm sure I'd have felt more comfortable about the whole thing. As it is however it's the movie equivalent of a full page newspaper article that depicts a lie before apologising with a small article in the corner the next day. If you've nothing better to do for two hours and have a one Hardy-per-hour quota to fill, you could do a lot worse! Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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