The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Review: Legend (UK Cert 18)

London in the 1960s. The Kray twins are some of the most dangerous gangsters operating in the city. They're mad, bad and dangerous to know- or cross. Legend takes a look at their rise and fall, told through the prism of Reggie's relationship with Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who became his first wife.

The film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River), starts with the Krays already established as players in London's underworld so neatly sidesteps any origin story issues. It's a decent crime drama, with absorbing performances by Tom Hardy in the dual roles of Ronnie and Reggie.

As Reggie, Hardy is suave, charismatic, persuasive- it's easy to see why Frances falls for him- but he's able to turn on a sixpence. As Ronnie (who starts the film declared insane and in an asylum), he's almost occupying a different plane of reality, but is not less dangerous. Browning is good in a role which could have just easily been a two-dimensional gangster's moll but actually has a bit of substance; Frances tries to get Reggie to go straight but the lure of that life is too much.

Supporting roles are generally strong: Tara Fitzgerald is good as Frances' disapproving mother, whilst Christopher Eccleston is impressive as police officer 'Nipper' Read who tracked the Krays down. John Sessions gets a fruity little cameo as Lord Boothby, a peer whose links to Ronnie gets him into hot water, whilst Kevin McNally is strong as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson whose own administration gets tainted by the scandal. Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis and Taron Egerton also put in great performances.

As befitting a film about some of the most violent gangsters ever to operate in London, the film earns its 18 certificate with unflinching violence (and copious swearing). It's a blackly funny film as well, with a lot of the humour coming from Ronnie and his slightly skewed view of the world.

The film is well-made but it's not particularly spectacular or powerful. There's an awful lot of 'tell, don't show' through the overuse of Frances' narration which undermines things slightly and there are several liberties taken within the story from what is generally the accepted truth about the Krays which perhaps don't ring as right. All said, decent enough.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Review: Macbeth (UK Cert 15)

In the UK especially, Macbeth is often the first exposure schoolchildren get to Shakespeare (as it's often used as a set text for school exams). The story is well known: Macbeth gets supernatural premonition of greatness, gets egged on by his ambitious wife, murders the king and then it all goes to pot. On film, the seminal version of 'the Scottish Play' is generally considered to be the dark and disturbing 1971 version directed by Roman Polanski. Here, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) directs a bloody, bold and resolute re-telling of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays.

Michael Fassbender is the titular thane and he's damn good at portraying what is a complex character on paper but can often be written off as a crazed tyrant. Some of the dialogue is spoken as internal monologue as Fassbender broods upon the actions he's committed and plans to commit. Marion Cotillard is very impressive as Lady Macbeth, another complex character often boiled down. There's a scene that's been added at the beginning which can go to explain the mental state of the two characters- plus also gives weight to one of the big questions academics always ask about the play. Lady Macbeth's descent from ambitious bitch to madwoman is cannily played and Kurzel makes a canny directorial decision in just focusing on Cotillard's face whilst she delivers the 'sleepwalking' lines. It's a potent performance.

The rest of the cast are similarly strong. Happily, there's not an actor in the cast that speaks the words but doesn't know what they're actually saying; they all speak the Shakespearean language trippingly off the tongue. Paddy Considine is a solid presence as the ill-fated Banquo whilst Sean Harris gives a sterling turn as the avenging Macduff whilst David Thewlis makes an all-too brief appearance as Duncan. 

It's a brutal story told brutally. The opening battle scene spares nothing in the blood and guts state and the murder of Duncan is similarly unsparing. Macbeth does bad things and they are shown in unflinching detail (the dispatching of Lady Macduff and her children is particularly powerful). However, the film isn't perfect:  Kurzel employs the jerky camera movements which make me feel a bit seasick (quite annoying) and, sadly due to the virtue of necessity, some of the best pieces of verse/text are excised. The famous 'double double toil and trouble' witches scene is right out- in fact the witches get particularly shortchanged- and the arguments between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth before and after Duncan's murder get completely filleted. What's left is a taut telling of the main story but there's not a word or syllable wasted. 

In summary, it's worth seeing for the performances of Fassbender and Cotillard and some of the brooding cinematography (hats off to Adam Arkapaw), but by no means could this be considered a definitive version of the play.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5