‘Legend’ Movie Review 1 23

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It’s been 25 years believe it or not since the story of the notorious Kray twins was explored on film, with the brothers Martin and Gary Kemp portraying them. Now a quarter of a century on we have this distinctly more glamorous exploration of their story, featuring two Tom Hardys for the price of one playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray.

Instead of charting the twins’ childhood and rise to power, Legend pushes its audience into the deep end of them already well on the way to running London in the 1960s, using their distinct brand of charisma, intimidation and outright violence as a way to rule. Their story is told from the viewpoint of and with a voiceover by Frances (Emily Browning), the wife of Reggie who becomes increasingly tired of their criminal ways.

This represents a conspicuously Americanized take on not only the Krays infamous story of power and brutality but also of a British gangster film in general. Indeed it is, having been written and directed by L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland. To paraphrase Chazz Palminteri’s visiting US crime boss, London becomes the Las Vegas of Europe in this story and it’s shot as such. We experience this crime tale through a brightly coloured veneer of glamourized gambling, slick suits and haircuts and Goodfellas/Casino-esque set-pieces ranging from scenes akin to Joe Pesci’s legendary the “How am I funny?” interrogation that straddles the line between funny and dangerous to the outright bloody violence that is sure to shock even some of the most hardened crime saga fans.

It’s never a film that truly gets to the bone of its central figures, imposing though they are, as it’s too interested in surface level style and panache. For example, the mental instability aspect that defines Ronnie’s existence is never gone into in any satisfying detail, boiled down to a mere “if he doesn’t take his pills, he’s a bit crazy.” It’s therefore a testament to the one and only Tom Hardy that the notorious pair is as utterly compelling as they are. Quite frankly Hardy is phenomenal here, playing Reggie and Ronnie as two living, breathing distinct individuals, it never once feeling like it’s the same person just with a different haircut or manner of speaking.

Ronnie is naturally the most outlandish, unhinged of the two personas and is thus the most outright fun to watch – his angry reaction to a rival gang not bringing any guns to a shootout is a hilarious film highlight – but his more restrained, controlled Reggie is no less fascinating. He lays on a stunning double performance – helped by largely seemless CGI and use of body-doubles – that’s as fascinating as it is unsettling and one that is sure to win him a multitude of deserved plaudits when the times come around. It once again proves why he’s one of the best actors working today.

The idea of exploring this already well-known story through the prism of a key supporting figure in their life is an interesting one but it ultimately weighs the film down rather than elevates it to a clear objective stand point for telling the story. This is mainly due to an obtrusive voice-over that’s not so much the fault of Browning – who functions as the only truly likeable character in a film populated by otherwise purposefully unpleasant thugs – but rather its overly explanatory, po-faced nature. The story just didn’t need it, made all more evident by how it comes into play by the end. This approach also means that it skims over certain crucial aspects of the twins’ story, namely the overbearing presence of their mother who is reduced to backseat matriarch who serves tea and cake in a couple of scenes, disappointing for both those who know the real story and fans of the 1990 Kemp version in which she was so pivotal.

The film is called Legend and there’s a consistent, almost admirable commitment to making this particular telling of the story fit for the title. It seems less interested in getting under the surface of these men and more in holding them up as charismatic criminals who took their surroundings by storm and made sure no one ever forgot their name. It’s often too silly, at times even farcical to truly be taken seriously and is wrapped in a familiar cloak of cinematic gangsterisms. It’s a superficial, surface level crime saga for sure but enjoyable so; less Gangster No. 1 and more Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Hardy’s towering twin performance is the main reason to see it but for those that bask in the films of Martin Scorsese and those that followed his lead, it’s got personality, panache and slick charm to spare.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 205

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 230

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10