A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Legend (Brian Helgeland, 2015)

Tom Hardy in Legend
Reggie Kray / Ronnie Kray: Tom Hardy
Frances Shea: Emily Browning
"Nipper" Read: Christopher Eccleston
Leslie Payne: David Thewlis
Mad Teddy Smith: Taron Edgerton
Angelo Bruno: Chazz Palminteri
Charlie Richardson: Paul Bettany
Frank Shea: Colin Morgan
Mrs. Shea: Tara Fitzgerald
Albert Donoghue: Paul Anderson
Jack MacVitie: Sam Spruell
Violet Kray: Jane Wood

Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Based on a book by John Pearson
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Production design: Tom Conroy
Music: Carter Burwell

Perhaps if Brian Helgeland's screenplay and direction had been stronger, Tom Hardy's performance as the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie, might have made more impact. Hardy is an always watchable actor, and he makes a sharp delineation between the two brothers, one psychotic and the other more charmingly deadly. But Helgeland has missed an opportunity to put the Krays in the context of their era: the "swinging London" of the 1960s. There are some superficial name-dropping attempts: Reggie's girlfriend, Frances Shea, spots Joan Collins in a nightclub, and there are some other pop notables on the scene. But the script is too preoccupied with Reggie's affair with and marriage to Frances to give the Krays' kind of gangsterism any larger significance, the way Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films (1972, 1974, 1980) integrated the relationship of Michael and Kay Corleone into the greater social and political context. Helgeland also makes a serious misstep with a voiceover narration -- often a sign of weakness in screenplays, a suggestion that the writer hasn't worked out a way to provide exposition dramatically. That the narrator is Frances, who dies three-quarters of the way into the film, only compounds the error: Narrative by a dead person rarely works, except in fantasy films or in the sardonic context of Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950). The device loses its point after Frances's death: Her function in the screenplay is first to humanize Reggie Kray -- the film lays on Carter Burwell's score a little too thickly in their love scenes -- and then to suggest that he has suddenly somehow lost his soul when he rapes and beats her. Ronnie is a one-note character throughout, with his retinue of lethal boyfriends, including a standout Taron Edgerton as the giggling "Mad Teddy" Smith. Hardy fills him with silent menace, but he's a good enough actor to make the decision to give him a false nose and to stuff his cheeks like Marlon Brando's in The Godfather (Coppola, 1972) all the more regrettable.

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