Legend

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Director Brian Helgeland’s Legend presents a sweeping and entertaining if mostly frivolous recreation of the Kray brothers’ reign of terror on the streets of London in the 60’s. We see the twins, both portrayed by Tom Hardy – in what is a remarkable pair of performances – as possessing a number of contradictory aspects though the overall effect is distancing, not to mention misleading in attempting to roughly humanise men whose criminal endeavours were unconscionably marked by ruthlessness and brutality.

Hardy is the film’s obvious trump card; through it all, he brings an astonishing level of commitment to rendering the brothers with detail that Helgeland’s screenplay, superficially, doesn’t come close to providing. So much of what Hardy brings to these roles won’t be found on the page: the fluid, unpredictable demeanour of the Krays, their physical traits, their inflections of speech. Whilst expanding their influence on the city’s criminal underbelly, Reggie, the brainier of the pair and a ladies man, attempts to win the heart of the winsome Frances (Emily Browning), the younger sister of one of his henchmen. Ronnie on the other hand is openly gay and prone to rashness in his decision making, especially when his sibling isn’t around to keep him centred.

Helgeland has a less spotty record as a screenwriter than as, more recently, a director. His adaptations of heavyweight crime novels L.A. Confidential (1997) and Mystic River (2003) were first rate. But, behind the camera, his Point Blank (1967) remake and directorial debut Payback (1999) proved to be a botch job, whilst the over-the-top, speciously anachronistic A Knight’s Tale (2001) was close to unwatchable. On a positive note, Legend is eminently watchable right from the start even if it’s hard to take seriously. It seems to be have been deliberately crafted to fill some uncomfortable middle ground – neither a gritty, detailed biopic, hard-nosed drama, nor excessive black comedy but rather sitting somewhere uncomfortably in between.

All three aspects are served, though the comedic bent is the far more pervasive. This fact tends to cheapen a film that’s predominantly stripped of meaning without any strict adherence to a framework of intricately detailed facts. A succession of clichéd, generally awful songs from the era also kills the film’s more serious intents. Helgeland has never been a fan of subtlety and rather than sparingly use source music for genuine impact, the drenching effect only dilutes and compromises the excellent score by Carter Burwell.

In what marks a new adult dimension to her career, Browning is luminous as the fatefully betrothed Frances, whilst a strong supporting cast provide the background ensemble with all the necessary muscle, vacuity and believable accents. Yet they’re all subservient to Hardy, naturally enough, an actor whose range knows no bounds whether playing broadly identifiable, homegrown British characters like the Krays or slipping effortlessly into American roles. It’s a shame then that, despite its entertainment value, there hasn’t been a better attempt by Helgeland to provide real insight or psychological depth to his regurgitation of this infamous duo. Thus, Legend (2015), with its frustratingly conflicting tones, is unlikely to be remembered for much else other than as a future reference for Hardy completists.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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George Miller’s long awaited regeneration of his first, most memorable creation, Mad Max, exceeds all expectations. This blissfully deranged, post-apocalyptic fever dream, fuelled by its grotesque, outlandish imagery, uncompromising weirdness and the sledgehammer-effective accompaniment of Tom Holkenborg’s score, almost allows you to imagine the birth of a new form of action film. The kinetic, adrenaline-pumping set-pieces – which make up most of the film – are shot with a freshness of perspective that seems almost impossible to achieve in today’s made-by-committee, for-the-masses, movie-as-fast-food-consumption climate.

When the pestilent, warlord ruler of the Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), sends his Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a mission to obtain gas, she decides to rebel, settling on an alternate plan that sees her fleeing with Joe’s beautiful array of ‘breeders’ in the hopes of transporting them across the desert to her original home, the Green Place. With the adoption of a fleeing Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), earlier snared by Joe’s minions and used as a human bloodbank for Lux (Nicolas Hoult) – who also becomes an ally – she sets out against formidable odds and wave after wave of relentless pursuers.

The combat in Fury Road is brutal, exhilarating and gut-wrenching. Once the screws are turned – and Miller wastes very little time in setting his charges in motion – there’s barely a moment to breathe. The scope of the chases and the ensuing battles, across endless sandblasted terrain, is awe-inspiring and though the actors necessarily play second fiddle to the stuntwork, there are no weak links. The hard-nosed, taciturn stoicism of Hardy works a treat for Max, even if, peculiarly, he ends up closer to a sidekick of sorts in his own film. Theron’s imposing physicality and equally believable masculine qualities are channelled to great effect, meaning there are no credibility issues in her sharing the action duties with Max and the others. Keays-Byrne and Hoult are given great small moments in which to shine, whilst John Howard, Angus Sampson and numerous others all make tiny but telling contributions to Miller’s carnivalesque gathering of freakshow attractions.

Miller, now 70, has been inspired by the scale of his imagination and like too few he’s simply had the audacity to run with it – to utterly trust his vision and insist it hold true to the end. The result is something remarkable, and bearing not a whiff of studio interference that might have seen the director coerced into reining in the excesses of his demented fictional world. The story may not be the film’s strongest suit, and indeed, chunks of dialogue become incomprehensibly camouflaged beneath the relentless sonic assault of music and rampaging engine sound effects. But the basic narrative arc is clear enough and for once these matters fade into insignificance against the backdrop of a spectacle so remarkably assured, transportive and mind-blowingly entertaining. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), with all its swooping John Seale aerial perspectives, militant nihilism, cavalcade of diseased, warped mutations and ecological sub-themes earns the right to be labelled something close to an instant action classic; at the very least it’s a new watermark against which future genre directors can grade themselves.