Glitz, power and Tom Hardy(‘s) make up this stylish re-telling of the Kray brothers legacy in East london during the 1960’s.
Written and directed by Brain Helgeland who famously co-wrote the screenplay for L.A Confidential, Legend tells the story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were two of the most notorious mobsters in British history and were set on controlling and enlarging their organised crime empire during the 1960’s, it is also narrated through the impossible voice of Reggie’s late wife Frances Shea (Emily Browning).
Tom Hardy plays both of the iconic gangster brothers in a film which deals with its narrative well yet treats the Krays lives as mythology (this maybe where the title derives from), there is no rise to power and little back story given to the brothers as the viewer is thrown into the film head first as the brothers are already near the top in East London’s apparatus of power. The plot is limited and mainly revolves around a character study of the Krays, which is brought on because of Hardy’s mesmerizing performance. And it is his performance which carries and saves the film.
First of all Legend is shot beautifully, London radiates class and resonates a very 60’s feel. Even though it is shot by Dick Pope who is Mike Leigh’s choice cinematographer and therefore rarely deviates from shooting British movies, the cinematography feels very Americanized as many shots are very reminiscent of American gangster movies as there is clear influence from Scorsese, however, at various different points in this film Helgeland’s influences way over shadow his source material which is one of my main problems with Legend. At no point did I feel like I was watching a movie about the famous gangster twins who controlled East London in the 1960’s, all I saw was a very Americanized gangster movie with constant references and straight up model scene copies from Goodfellas. One scene especially comes in to mind where Reggie escorts Frances around his club for the first time with the camera constantly following them around throughout and rarely cutting.
As for the writing of which Helgeland is known for I didn’t feel like any of the characters apart from the Krays were fleshed out or well realised. Frances was represented as a feeble young woman whose physical character was no more fleshed out than any of the idiotic side characters and gangsters all of whose names were forgotten before they left the screen. Emily Browning is clearly trying to give a good performance but being in the presence of such a dynamite duo-performance by Hardy and an uninspiring script to narrate, her talent is wasted.
With this film being a character study it’s understandable that the central performance would need to be a good one, and as always Hardy does not disappoint. A clean-cut rendition of Reggie who is charming yet intimidating and a hilarious mentally-unstable Ronnie who is strangely similar to a Matt Lucas Little Britain character. The best part about his nuance performance is the way the two polar opposite twins work off each other (seen best in a terrifically crafted fist fight between the two) and even though Ronnie can seem a bit unrealistic and over the top at times he brings energy and genuinely makes this film much more entertaining.
The main problem I have with Legend is the story of which it’s trying to present. It’s a matter of style over substance, it’s the not the story of the Kray twins, it’s the mythology of the Kray twins. They are not shown as the vile human beings they really were and even though at times Legend tries to make the audience see what savagery these two were capable of, it just seemed forced. And without spoiling anything, Ronnie seems to be as obsessed with his own mythology as much as this film is.
Ultimately, this is a glamorous yet shallow attempt to undercut the lives of the infamous Kray twins and is held together by yet another stand-out performance by Hardy.
3/10 – Jakob Evans