Viewed – 26 January 2016  Blu-ray

I loved the 1990 British biopic of The Krays starring former Spandau Ballet brothers Gary & Martin Kemp which for me had long been one of the best gangster movies I had seen.  However I haven’t seen that rendition in a long time so the prospect of a new adaptation of the famed East End mobsters’ story was exciting.  Also the fact current hot property Tom Hardy (Mad Max Fury Road) was taking on the roles of both Ronnie & Reggie Kray meant this couldn’t fail … or could it?


Set during the height of the gangster’s reign over the criminal underworld in the 1960s, Reggie and his rather unstable brother Ronnie have London eating out of their hands; rubbing shoulders with celebrities, owning nightclubs and about to go into business with the Italian Mafia.  Told primarily from the perspective of Reggie’s wife Francis (Emily Browning – who somehow still has a career after the god-awful Sleeping Beauty) this promises to be another mob classic to stand alongside movies such as Goodfellas.  Yet in the hands of director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale), we get anything but that.  His direction is plodding despite decent production value and eye-catching photography, but for a mob movie there is a total lack of menace.  I didn’t feel like these people were all that intimidating or scary, and in a decent gangster yarn, I’m usually always a bit nervy of something kicking off any second.  This is not helped by the focus on Reggie & Francis’ relationship where the casting of the porcelain pretty Emily Browning once again proves her as one of the most uninteresting actresses currently working, not helped by her snore-inducing narration.  This needed much more of the criminal lifestyle and the enforcing of that lifestyle … yet mob hits come out of nowhere, and famous murders just happen with no build up.  Trying his damndest is Tom Hardy but although charismatic as Reggie, his apparent control and intimidation of Francis is bizarrely glossed over, making a certain turn of events later on come out of nowhere.  On the flip side his portrayal of Ronnie is borderline farcical, the legendary gangland mobster reduced to an absurd caricature rather than particularly threatening (the trumpet blowing scene almost had me giggling in embarrassment).

So the tone and pacing and everything other than the look was totally off, and important characters to the Kray’s story such as their mother or infamous names like Jack ‘the hat’ McVittie are little more than ‘just there’ when their inclusion could have helped with the movie’s authenticity (which has to be said, it takes liberties with).  The Krays were fascinating and pretty scary in real life by all accounts – but this interpretation failed to capture hardly any of what made them famous or ironically, legends.

Verdict:  2 /5


Director’s Cut vs Theatrical Version

I have a love / hate relationship with director’s cuts.  Often it seems I prefer the original of which I have become used to, and more often than not, any tinkering adds very little to the movie (ahem, Blade Runner), even to the point of ruining it (The Frighteners, anyone?)  Now Payback is definitely a different beast.  The original theatrical version plays out as a clever, mean and dirty revenge movie with bags of personality and energy to spare.  I loved it, but haven’t seen it in ages.  Last night I sat down to watch this new Director’s Cut, with hype surrounding it as a completely new movie compared to what was previously released. 


Mel Gibson is Porter, a hard-as-nails career crim who is double crossed by his partner in crime and left shy of 70 grand.  Now he is back in town and wants what he’s owed.  This simple set up lays the ingredients for a back-to-basics thriller, very much in that 70s cop movie vibe, and Gibson is joined by a quality cast, especially the always gorgeous Maria Bello, and the brilliant Lucy Liu.  I recall loving the one dimensional intensity of Gibson’s character, his charm and sly wit even when up against impossible odds – you route for him even though he’s despicable.  He’s just cool.

Now when comparing this to the theatrical version, we have a leaner, meaner cut, that although now showing Gibson knocking Deborah Kara Unger senseless and killing a heavy in cold blood, actually seems tamer in comparison.  We also get an entirely different third act, that lacks much of the ‘yes!’ climax of the original and excises Kris Kristofferson completely.  Perhaps fitting with the 70s vibe, the formerly blue tint to the movie has been replaced with a raw, gritty and vibrant colour palette, which gives the movie a new lease of life.

I’ll say I prefer the original overall as the missing scenes here do add a great deal, as did the voice over that is also gone – it just felt like a more fleshed out experience.  Yet I applaude what director Brian Helgeland was going for and think the new version is just as good – for different reasons.

The Blu-ray can’t be faulted mostly as its jam-packed with features, including a short documentary on the creation of the new cut, an audio commentary on the new cut, and behind the scenes featurettes to fill out the package.  The new look to the director’s cut impresses most, but both versions (as is presented here) are in great shape, with equally punchy Dolby True HD soundtracks.


(Director’s Cut):  4 /5

(Theatrical Version):  4 /5