It’s difficult to think of a current actor with more physical presence than Idris Elba, not least because he looks like a heavyweight boxer. Best known as the tragic gangster Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire (2002-2004), the east London-born Elba’s first substantial role was in Channel 4’s excellent, but 10 years too early, vampire drama Ultraviolet (1998), in which he played a brooding British soldier who had a unique form of Gulf War Syndrome in that he saw his entire squad wiped out by vampires. Elba’s physique lends itself to soldier roles and he’s played quite a few over his career as a character actor, including bit parts in Buffalo Soldiers (2001) and 28 Weeks Later (2007), as well as a lead role in the regrettable The Losers (2010).
However, more than just a physical presence, Elba is a great actor, and with the role of US Black Ops soldier Malcolm Gray in British independent film Legacy, Elba gets a long overdue fully developed and psychologically complex lead part in which he gives a tour de force performance.
When a mission in an undisclosed eastern European country goes wrong, Malcolm is captured and tortured. He escapes and returns to his native Brooklyn, where he holds up in an apartment and plans to expose his brother Darnell Gray Jr (Eamonn Walker), the Senator who sold him out to terrorists, while coming to terms with his own questionable actions during the mission. Here Malcolm is visited by a series of characters including his former team mates and his ex-lover Valentina (Monique Gabriela Curnen), now Darnell’s wife, and the audience begins to question Malcolm’s sanity while the film builds to a dramatic climax at the press conference where Darnell is going to announce that he is running for president.
Legacy is the second feature from the young British writer, director and, in this case, editor, Thomas Ikimi, and he’s definitely someone to watch at a time when even the big studios are looking for the lowest budget solutions for making features. By bringing Elba on board as executive producer, filming on location in Scotland and using a mostly British cast, having recognisable, but not A-list expensive actors such as Eamonn Walker from Oz and Monique Gabriela Curnen from The Dark Knight, as well as using the kind of economy of location seen in some of Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental films, Ikimi has created a tight psychological thriller that punches well above its low-budget weight.