|“Believe me when I say, it took a lot of love for me to hate him the way I do.” – Frances Shea|
There is a scene late in the film that inspired me to write this review. To be sure, I didn’t plan it. Twas a film I sat down to watch and, exclusively, enjoy one private evening, alone, and with no obligation to evaluate it. But, well, here it is; this film’s poignancy compelled me. It’s revelations and turning points, its character arcs, and the constant reminder that Legend is inspired by a true story.
There is a thing about biopics; they always take massive (damaging and oftentimes incorrigibly insulting) liberties with the source material, alienating anyone still living from the story told, as well as anyone watching with even a passing knowledge of the history on which the film is based. This happened with Cinderella Man back in 2005; with David O. Russell’s American Hustle eight years later; with, of course, The Last Samurai, and, if we’re being honest, just about every film by Edward Zwick.
In American Hustle, Mel Weinberg’s story is told by the dramatization of Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, and Weinberg’s opinion of his wife Marie (Rosalyn, in the movie), made it into the film, that she was, “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate”. This was 100% not based on reality, and was so thoroughly mean-spirited and inaccurate a portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence that it drove the real Marie to suicide. Hey! The show must go on!
U57-1, since we’re on the topic, gave us the story of the German sub U-110 that was captured by British sailors in an important military victory. But you wouldn’t know this if you watched the movie, which hijacked said victory to tell a story about American bravado.
|As if Ed Zwick needed a precedent for giving us Nathan Algren, the alcoholic American who out-Samurais the Samurai after a few months of training.|
Ron Howard made his artistic contribution to trampling on history with the beautifully told Cinderella Man, a film in which, desperate a villain, Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman were commissioned to pen a script painting Craig Bierko’s Max Baer into every bit the monster his name subtly suggests, though the real man was very much the contrary. He fought Frankie Campbell on August 25, 1930, and regrettably killed the man in the ring. He sat by Campbell’s hospital bed, with Campbell’s wife, expressing empathy and remorse. The death of Campbell devastated Baer and nearly cost him his own life in grief. The film showcases him making jokes about it, and wearing it like an ill-begotten badge of “honor”.
Hollywood be trippin’.
The film’s director, Brian Helgeland, announced on October 12, 2013, that he would be directing a movie off a script he himself wrote based upon John Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins”. It would tell the story of Reggie Kray, a former boxer who becomes a head in the London criminal underground, and his twin brother Ron, the bespectacled one, who is decidedly much more the psychopath of the duo, their notoriety as the Kray Brothers, and their rise and fall under the banner along the brutal, turbulent trajectory of their verboten career.
The very first scene introduces us Reggie, played by Tom Hardy (who also plays Ron, a duel performance that will be remembered as a watermark of an ascending career), as he walks past the car of the laughable police running surveillance on the brothers’ criminal outfit, in a narrative that loosely becomes a homage to the British caper crime genre, en route to the door of his driver’s home, where the man lives with his mother and sister Frances (played by Emily Browning) who becomes the love interest that narrates the film.
The typical love story that ensues between Reggie and Frances reminds of an eye rolling rom-com until you remember that it is based on a true story, and that she falls for him, a suave gangster, a bad man, the way young, impressionable, misguided (and all too common) girls tend to do. Well, I digress. This is a film review and not a sociological stab to the gut of the fairer side of the millennial temperament. But it bears mention, an aesthetic plus and yet a burden too, that almost immediately the intimacy displayed between Browning and Hardy borders on uncomfortable to behold. This is a testament to fine acting and bristling chemistry. Indeed, there is a reason for the instant familiarity and connotation to PDA, the phrase, “Public Displays of Affection”.
Ultimately, however, this relationship chronicles the events of the film, and serves as a referential buffer between the scenes of Hardy dazzling us as the two brothers, who share many scenes together, but are distinguished not just by the glasses worn by one of them, but by distinctly different mannerisms, speech patterns, habits and tics… My word, what a hell of a performance!!
Jake Gyllenhaul failed to deliver this kind of gravitas a couple years ago with Enemy (2013), the follow up film of Denis Villeneuve after the wonderful Prisoners given to us earlier in the same year. But I blame Villeneuve’s denouement for that (where the hell were the handlers holding down the fort between him and the printer?!). Double, another film that came out in 2013, also failed in this regard. But it was doomed from the start for the casting of Jesse Eisenberg, who broke our hearts just a few weeks ago with his addition to the annals of yet another misinterpretation of Lex Luthor.
But Hardy? The son-of-a-bitch was born to play a duo of twins in a movie exactly like this one.
Paul Bettany has an uncredited role in this movie, as Charlie Richardson, one of the leaders of a rivalry turf war in London between the Richardsons and the Krays during the 1960s. You might miss him on the first viewing, or go completely without recognizing the guy. He sinks that much into his roles even when not voicing computers and murder-bots.
|Paul Bettany, after the magic of some bitchin’ make-up!|
You know, I think I lied earlier. It was Tom Hardy’s brilliant performance that made me want to write this review. The honor of capturing in a sentence what Hardy achieved in this film was far too attractive to pass up. And so here we are. Welcome, sirs and a ma’ams, to my gushing session.
This is such a well-made film that I went out of my way to not look up the ways the historical text is shattered by the big rock metaphor of a feature film being thrown right through, which brings me to Browning. She’s grown much since her role in 2004’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events
, as both as a thespian and a head-turner, and she holds her own in this movie with regal poise uncommon among the bulk of actors and actresses breaking onto the scene from her generation. A portion of her narrations sums up the film nicely, as well, accidentally, maybe, as hinting at the compulsory changes to the record, when, speaking of Reggie, she quotes him with the following:
“The center of the world could be anywhere you like. Even here, in the East End of London. The world is quite like London. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. There’s no morality or dishonor, just your own lonely code. Until your race is run. Until the end. Until we’re all just ghosts of the people we once thought we were.”
….Damn. I wasn’t expecting to agree. And much less, wasn’t expecting it to hurt with the kind of ‘good pain’ that jolts one when in the presence of epiphany.
Khalil Barnett is a martial arts practioner living in Florida, and is also a filmmaker, writer, producer and actor starring in the independent action drama series, The Way, and co-creator of upcoming indie action short, Santos. Visit the official Facebook page for more info.
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Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.