Legend (UK, 2015)

legend-posterDirected by: Brian Helgeland. Not to be confused with the Ridley Scott fairytale epic starring a young Tom Cruise and a satanic Tim Curry in a movie basically riding the coattails of Labyrinth, also called Legend. This is one of those films that isn’t necessarily very good, but which has plenty of markers of being good. In this case, the basic premise—a movie about the Kray brothers with Tom Hardy as both Krays—was just too good to pass up. And really, even the trailer, though scarce on dialogue (tellingly) and full of great Roy Orbison (a total red herring), had me cautiously optimistic. It looked like Gangster No. 1 (London gangsters in the 60’s wearing great suits), but more glossy, with panoramic views of the London skyline, totally CGI-enhanced, like a gritty movie with too high a budget, where you can’t see the grain in the film stock, and really, who wants that? And yet, I still thought I might really like it, if it had enough markers. Turns out I was right on all counts—it’s not actually a particularly good movie, it is full of sexy and stylistic markers that I find really appealing, and the fantastic style of the film was totally a substitute for the middling to bad substance of the film. I really liked it, I’ll probably watch it again. Does this count as a guilty pleasure? It’s not like this was a bad movie, I’ve definitely seen worse. These guys definitely invoke their betters a little bit, and invite comparison to greater works—by having Paul Bettany and David Thewlis around, the comparisons to Gangster No.1 are inevitable, and if I’m being honest, that is much better movie all in all. It’s the other actors, though, that also invoke comparisons to the brain-dead British lad-mag thug culture that I suspect is the target demo of stuff like Kingsman (Taron Egerton, very good in this) and Peaky Blinders (Paul Anderson, also good, for what little he needs to do). I mean, don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t as dumb and sexist as The Sweeney. But, okay, there’s one little throwaway rape scene that seems really inconsequential and off-the-historical-record, and I honestly can’t tell what the filmmakers are doing there, other than throwing in some taboo shit so that we’re impressed with how “edgy” the movie is. The devastating game-changing nature of such an act is totally lost on the filmmakers, and the characters just kind of float along, picking up right where they left off, and though it’s hard to detect for sure, there’s meant to be a trace of general respect and admiration for the outlaws, even after committing rape, which, to put it delicately, is completely fucked. So yes, this film’s strong suit is not its gender politics, and that might be a fair reason for a viewer to disregard this whole thing, to which I say—fair enough. I’m not sure if the world really needs another film showing flashy, brutish, violent masculinity in a dazzling and attractive-repulsive light, like all gangster movies do. This film follows the trend of current British depictions of such things—the protagonists are violent and repellant, but they’re broken, fragile snowflakes, and they’re more stylish and self-composed, and, in Brit terms, harder than the world around them, and this alone implies that they’re more noble and more worthy than the flawed world around them. This film always dares us to come to the opposite conclusion, always dares us to view them as violent psychopaths, that the world is better off from them being in jail, but as with all of these films, the film has spent too much time showing us how fucking cool they look for the critique to be very effective. This world is too attractive—even the “bad” bad guys, the Richardson gang, led by a fucking amazing Paul Bettany, inhabit a cartoon world where the violence is so sordid and cartoonish and extreme (the show trials and kangaroo court are apparently accurate—those British gangster in the 60’s were fucked) but also stylized and safe, that I can’t wait to watch this movie again. I’m not sure I’ll ever get a clear space on this kind of movie. I can see that it’s pretty flawed—for instance, why introduce the whole side story about Meyer Lansky’s people from America, the Chazz Palminteri character, all of that, when it didn’t come to anything? Overall, the film feels less like a movie with an arc than a series of events leading to two criminals going to jail, which is exactly how the history unfolds. As a piece of myth, as a self-conscious “legend”, the film kind of falls short. There’s a really cool scene where they beat up a room full of thugs on their own, and another scene where they beat up each other—kudos on the trick photography! The only legend this is contributing to is the legendary acting chops of Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Chris Eccleston, and especially Tom Hardy, who seems to be on fire this year. This isn’t a great film, but Tom Hardy is definitely great in it, so as a piece of movie watching with actors and lines and costumes and sets, etc, this is pretty enjoyable. Just try to ignore the dialogue, which isn’t great.


6 responses to “Legend (UK, 2015)

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