After several documentaries and the Peter Medak film The Krays (1990), with the real-life brothers Gary and Martin Kemp (mostly known as the members of their former pop group Spandau Ballet) playing the notorious London based gangster twins Ronald and Reginald Kray the time was deemed ripe for another film depicting these ‘legends’. There’s even 2 more recent low-budget films, The Rise of the Krays (2015) and The Fall of the Krays (2016) by Zackary Adler, just going to show The Krays still very much appeal to the British imagination.
This time round the casting coup consists of having 1 actor, an excellent Tom Hardy, play the East-End gangsters twins. Where the 1990 version scripted by Philip Ridley (director of the excellent films The Reflecting Skin, 1990, The Passion of Darkly Noon, 1995 and Heartless, 2009) heavily centered on the determining role their mother Violet (an excellent Billie Whitelaw) played in the history of the Krays the Brian Helgeland (director of Payback, 1999, but mostly known for his scripts/adaptations of L.A. Confidential, 1997, and Mystic River, 2003) version is told from the point of view of the character Frances Shea, Reggie’s wife, sensetively played and narrated by Emily Browning.
The film deals with the rise and fall of the Krays and shows the well-known ‘highlights’ of their gangster career, including the violent outbursts, their association with celebrities and their own celebrity status during the London Swinging Sixties, Ronnie’s homosexual escapades (the MP Robert Lord Bootby affair) and the murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘the hat’ McVittie.
The film starts of flashy with a lot of popular tunes of the time, the photography by Dick Pope (Mike Leigh’s regular DoP) is great. There’s a particularly impressive long steadycam shot that follows Reggie and Frances into one of his nightclubs to their table, interrupted by a lot of greetings from the guests. Just when he’s about to sit down and relax with his girlfriend he’s obliged to deal with some urgent ‘business’, deals with it, then returns to Frances, sits down at their table and continue their conversation for quite some time, all in one single take, perfectly acted and choreographed. There might be a cut when Hardy sits down and an extra moves past the camera. This scene can be seen as a nod to a similar shot in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), probably the best known steadycam shot of its sort in cinema history following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco from outside the Copacobana through the back , and the kitchen and to a specially installed table close to the stage, Henry Hill introducing and impressing his future wife Karen Hill to his ‘life-style’.
The tone of the film is mostly bordering on absurdly funny which does not always work well towards the end when the story moves towards a more dramatic conclusion. The visual effects putting Tom Hardy on the screen as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the same frame is flawless and pushes the technical achievements of e.g. Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988, state of the art at the time for its the use of repeated pre-programmed camera moves to enable to have moving shots with the same actor for the first time in the same frame) to a whole other level.
Besides Hardy and Browning, there’s a large number of great British actors at display such as Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Paul Anderson and Tara Fitzgerald. And Chazz Palminteri plays Angelo Bruno a representative of the famous US gangster Meyer Lansky in some of the films most hilarious scenes. The Krays proudly claim they own a casino, to which Angelo Bruno, trying to hide his amusment, states in an understated fashion that they own Las Vegas.
Was there really a necessity for yet another movie about the Krays? Perhaps not. At least this time there was no need for some controversy surrounding gangsters benefiting financially from their life of crime (they where still alive -jailed for life- at the time of the 1990 film and received a handsome sum for the film rights to their lifestory).