Not Crazy About The Krays?
Quite why the Kray twins occupy such a central pillar in the legends of London criminal life is a bit of a mystery these days. Surely whatever residual glamour that was once attached to them has gone?
Peter Medak made a very decent movie, ‘The Krays’, which looked as much at the women as the men, thanks to Phillip Ridley’s smart script. ‘Legend’, by comparison, is only notable for having Tom Hardy head-butt himself, while the low-budget cash-in ‘Rise of the Krays’ is an unwatchable joke.
But there have been good London crime movies, among them ‘The Glass Man’,’Layer Cake’ and this recent low-budget UK revenge flick that bypassed cinemas which was singled out by several respected film critics, including my old pal Kim Newman. Hopefully, ‘Bait’, formerly known as ‘The Taking’, will now find an audience. Trusting Kim’s judgement as I do, I picked up the DVD and agree; Dominic Brunt’s exploitation flick works because it has a pertinent point to make.
Bex and Dawn own a market stall selling coffee and want to open an organic shop, but the bank turns them down and cash is impossible to raise. Enter mousey Jeremy, a loan shark keen to lend them the money they need, but we’ve already seen what happens to people who can’t raise the cash to pay back his extortionate terms. Jeremy and his henchman have free rein of the city because they’ve got mates on the force, so when he starts to turn the screws on the girls we wonder how long it will take before they fight back. Their reaction to his demands is real; confusion, shock, disarray, fear.
Behind those bare plot bones are some pleasing surprises; the girls are rounded characters with flaws and families and an affection for each other, but Jeremy is also three dimensional. He and his henchman can switch from brutalising an old lady to laughing with their own children and wives. As the girls look on, they see the sheer level of duplicity men are capable of. It’s a dark view of the world, but in terms of a noir movie it’s one that fits.
Revenge, when it comes, is both natural and long overdue, and in the last reel the film displays its extremely gory guts – yet even a truly wince-making scene in a bathroom is tempered by the not-entirely-happy ending that follows; a suggestion that the girls may never be free of violence from men unless they remain vigilant. The only missteps are the decision to have one of the girls repeatedly stripping off (but more acceptable perhaps in an exploitation film), and the bland title, which confuses it with an Australian shark movie from 2013. ‘Bait’ is worth hooking up with.
Meanwhile, in ‘London Road’ ‘everyone is very very nervous’ – a refrain that opens the film, which takes a very different approach to crime, looking at the effect it has on those who live nearby. It was a much-feted National Theatre play consisting of verbatim interview dialogue from residents of the titular road who had been stigmatised by the publicity surrounding the arrest of a murderer of five prostitutes in their street, and how they claimed back the road for themselves with flower competitions. Personally I found the play preachy and repetitive, but a film version has trimmed away all the fat and made it far more cinematic.
The twist in the presentation (and it’s a very odd one) is that parts of the dialogue are semi-sung, creating if not quite an opera, a stuttering sound mosaic that punches home the residents’ points of view – and once again Tom Hardy crops up, here as a creepy cab driver obsessed with serial killers. But it’s a puzzle trying to work out who the audience for this is; it’s too experimental for mainstream audiences, even though many would probably enjoy it if they gave it a chance.
Clearly, though, an unusual approach to criminal stories is more appealing than the usual thick-ear East-End ‘Did you call my pint a poof?’-style dialogue, which has been with us since ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ lumbered us with geezer flicks, and perhaps ‘London Road’ opens up new possibilities for the British crime thriller. ‘British Crime Films’ by Barry Forshaw offers excellent further reading.