UK Release Date: 9th September 2015
Runtime: 131 minutes
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Sam Spruell
Synopsis: An examination of the rise to power of the Kray Twins in London’s criminal underworld, through the eyes of one of their wives.
The Kray twins are perhaps the most well known criminal figures in British history. They have been depicted on film before, by Gary and Martin Kemp in Peter Medak’s The Krays. This time around, though, the lion’s share of the publicity for the film focused on the fact that both Krays would be portrayed by Tom Hardy, in a technologically seamless double performance similar to the portrayal of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. The film is solid, but never really lives up to that degree of hype.
Reggie Kray (Hardy) struggles to control the increasingly psychotic behaviour of his brother Ronnie (Hardy) as they try to build themselves as the kingpins of a criminal empire in London under the guidance of business manager Leslie (David Thewlis). Reggie meets local girl Francis (Emily Browning) and eventually marries her, despite the protests of her family. Meanwhile, police detective Nipper (Christopher Eccleston) pursues the Krays in an attempt to bring them to justice.
The dichotomy that always greets films such as Legend is how to balance the vile horror of the criminal acts committed by their subjects with the inherent glamour of their celebrity. That’s a conflict that Legend never quite manages to reconcile, with Emily Browning’s ripe voiceover dubbing the Krays “princes of the East End” and casting them as figures of esteem in their local communities, despite their rapidly expanding criminal empire.
| "What are you gonna do with that rolling pin? You gonna bake me a cake?"
That’s not to say that Brian Helgeland shies away from the dark side of the Krays, depicting in several explosions of shocking violence the sheer ruthlessness of the brothers. In one bravura scene near the middle of Legend, which emerges as one of the film’s highlights, Hardy actually engages in a bloody, chaotic fistfight with himself as the two brothers scrap. Unfortunately, these explosions of violence are often juxtaposed with moments of groan-worthy geezery comedy that leave parts of the film feeling a little like a sweary EastEnders. Danny Dyer would be right at home here.
Hardy, throughout, is on top form. He does an excellent job of navigating not only the differences between the two twins, but the subtle changes in each of them as the narrative progresses. Legend is structured around how Emily Browning’s character perceives the twins, which shifts and alters as their true nature becomes clear to her. It’s a beautifully nuanced touch to the script that makes it even more depressing that so much of the rest of the film is simply a blunt instrument.
Few of the problems with Legend are a result of its talented British cast. The performers are solid across the board, although many are underused and don’t get the exploration they deserve. Taron Egerton, in particular, as a young gay man attached to Ronnie, intrigues the audience more than he obviously intrigued the writers in Christopher Eccleston’s cop never feels like much of a threat to the boys. Helgeland’s script is so enamoured with his two protagonists that it never scratches the surface of the world around them.
| "My loyalty to my brother is how I measure myself."
Perhaps appropriately given its title, Legend has the slightly naff quality of a campfire myth. It tells the story of these two very real men, who were evil, murderous criminals, using a bubblegum hyper-reality that, despite the occasional brutality, largely sugar coats the Krays and the world in which they lived. Legend is a film about gangsters that’s desperate to be the British version of Goodfellas, but finds itself desperately in need of edge.
Pop or Poop?
Legend is a workmanlike, solid gangster movie, but is lifted by Tom Hardy’s powerhouse double performance, which is a marvel of technical abilities and acting in equal measure.
Unfortunately, the rest of Brian Helgeland’s film is a little too bright and frothy to accurately convey the brutal criminality of his leads. Helgeland isn’t giving us the truth here; he’s definitely printing the legend.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.