Movie reviews: Legend, The Visit, Irrational Man

Tom Hardy plays twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray in Legend (18s), a stylish account of how the infamous villains rose to prominence during London’s Swinging Sixties.

Reggie, of course, is the handsome, charismatic twin, while Ronnie is a violent sociopath, and Hardy is in compelling form as he inhabits two distinct personalities, even if his portrayal of Ronnie’s psychosis errs on the crude side.

That said, and despite Cockney folklore to the contrary, Reggie isn’t exactly a shining knight, and the longer the movie goes on the more it becomes clear that casting Hardy as both brothers is less of a gimmick and more of a commentary on the conflicting Jekyll-and-Hyde urges that lurk inside every individual.

Directed by Brian Helgeland, the movie is a slickly told tale of gangsters that bears comparison with the likes of Goodfellas and Casino, the brutal violence juxtaposed with domestic bliss (initially, at least, as Reggie falls in love with local girl Frances Shea (Emily Browning)), the swaggering bravado fuelled by coal-black humour.

Beneath the belly-laughs, however, lies a tale that subverts the apparent glamour of a whirlwind life of nightclubs and casinos where criminals consort with aristocrats and showbiz stars, as Helgeland gradually reveals the extent of the Kray’s banal evil.

The scene in which the brothers face down their rivals in a barroom brawl is the standout in terms of visceral violence, certainly.

But it’s the moment when Frances’s mother defiantly wears black to her daughter’s wedding to Reggie that deserves the biggest cheer.

The Visit (15A) opens with teenagers Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) beginning a week-long vacation in rural Pennsylvania with the grandparents they’ve never met, because their mother Loretta (Kathryn Hahm) left home under a cloud two decades previously.

Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are gentle souls, living on a remote farm and devoting their lives to baking, farming and counselling those in need at the local hospital.

Very quickly, however, Tyler and Becca – an aspiring documentary maker who is filming everything she sees – discover that their grandparents are just a little bit strange, and not all of their idiosyncrasies can be explained away by incipient dementia …

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), The Visit evolves into a contemporary take on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, albeit one that has much fun with spoofing the horror conventions as it does spooking its audience.

DeJonge and Oxenbould are wonderfully natural in the lead roles, and it’s their unworldly – and frequently funny – responses to the increasingly sinister scenarios that give The Visit much of its offbeat narrative tension.

The ‘found footage’ conceit gives Shyamalan an opportunity to reinvent himself to a certain degree, although fans of his earlier movies will immediately find themselves at home with his child’s-eye view of horror, and the by now trademark twist that redefines the entire story is a zinger.

Overall The Visit is a solid and occasionally unsettling horror.

Woody Allen’s latest offering, Irrational Man (15A), stars Joaquin Phoenix as philosophy professor Abe, a world-weary cynic who takes a teaching position in a small New England college in order to get on with the serious business of drinking himself into oblivion.

Even the amorous attentions of undergrad Jill (Emma Stone) can’t lift Abe out of his existential coma.

But when the pair overhear a conversation about a judge who has mangled the concept of justice, Abe realises he has what it takes to get his life back, even if that means taking another man’s life.

Harking back to the movies that characterised Allen’s serious investigations of morality, such as Crimes and Misdemeanours, Irrational Man is on the one hand a fascinating exploration of ‘an exhilarating act of creativity’, as Abe describes his homicidal act, and on the other the most ordinary of Allen’s films for some time.

Phoenix and Stone make for a marvellous double-act in the lead roles, his paunchy, bleakly pessimistic character the polar opposite of her vivacious, bright-eyed optimist.

But the story itself lacks a quality of tension that Abe’s monumental decision to commit murder deserves.

Legend ****

The Visit ***

Irrational Man ***


Lifestyle

Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

More From The Irish Examiner