Ronnie and Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) were identical twin brothers who rose to control the criminal underworld in London’s East End during the 1950s and 60s. Reggie is levelheaded, alluring, and enthusiastic, while Ronnie is psychotic, cynical, and vicious. Combined they make two sides of the same gangster coin. Utilising their devout yet heated bond the brothers became powerful, recognisable, and respected British icons.
It must be said that Tom Hardy’s performance as both Kray twins is as seamless as Armie Hammer playing the Winklevosses in The Social Network. From beginning to end you accept that they are two very different people, giving little thought to the fact they are being played by one person. Both Ronnie and Reggie’s personalities are completely opposite, which helps separate the two so distinctly. Although, the difference here being that it wasn’t down to Hammer to have to carry The Social Network, which is one of the major reasons Legend maintains its appeal. Hardy’s charm along with a reliable supporting cast, retains our interest through some of the films less compelling moments. Further rescuing Legend from banality is Christopher Eccelston as the tenacious Nipper Reed, a policeman obsessed with the Krays. Reed is hell-bent on convicting them for whatever crimes would possibly put them behind bars. The brilliant David Thewlis as Leslie Pain handles the twins’ ‘business’ and financial affairs, and attempts to steer the twins clear of any major setbacks during their rise to power.
Try as they might, Hardy and the rest of the cast can’t hold the film down. Much of Legend has been seen before in The Krays (1990), a stylised and somewhat misguided attempt at telling the tale of the twins. Legend’s writer/director Brian Helgeland, co-writer of L.A Confidential, a film that maintained scope and complexity as well as being a gritty crime drama, hasn’t brought these elements together for Legend. The biggest difficulty is balancing the brothers’ criminal behavior with that of their appealing public persona. Juggling what they were, what they are, and how they should be perceived throughout the narrative proves problematic for Helgeland.
Reggie’s wife, Frances Shae (Emily Browning), narrates the film to an almost pointless effect, staggering the narrative and not adding much to the subtext of the film. It’s an aspect of Legend that would have almost been as ambitious as the double Hardy casting. Focusing on the perspective of Francis, from her initial captivation towards Reggie into what would eventually diminish into detestation, gives the audience a character that serves as a relatable protagonist. What reduces the narration, apart from the dialogue, is the stylised and lighthearted approach to the film’s violence. The portrayal of violence in the film conflicts with the nature of Frances, avoiding the severity of the Krays’ violent crimes that she would have very little knowledge about to begin with. The darkly humoured approach to the crimes of the Krays contradicts with Frances’ kindhearted and law-abiding nature, taking what should have served to ground any sense of grandeur within the film and missing an important storytelling opportunity.
Legend’s score, by the often-reliable Carter Burwell, can only be described as a standard and careless compilation of clichéd 60s pop songs. Case in point being that ‘Green Onions’ has been used extensively in film and television, particularly in anything reminiscent of the 60s. One would think a composer like Burwell would have the deliberation to avoid any formulaic use of the tune. Instead, his use of it is just as flippant as that of any other predecessor.
All that being said, Legend certainly has enough wit and charm to make it an enjoyable film. Glossing over true crime may not sit well with some people, and much like the Krays themselves, the film eludes any conviction. However, the supporting talent and Hardy factor no doubt make this much more watchable than it otherwise would be.
Legend is in cinemas from 15th October through StudioCanal.