Starring Tom Hardy and, err, Tom Hardy, Brian Helgeland’s Legend takes a look at the lives of the legendary Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie. Taking on the roles of both Ron and Reg, Hardy’s performance is in itself the stuff of legend, but is the film actually up to much when you get past the stunning work put in by its star?
Picking things up with the Krays at a point when they’re already at the top of the London gangster food chain (in fact, Ron is already locked up when the film opens), we see the brothers dealing with everyday mundanity as well as the prospect of rivals, relationships, and the attention of similarly-nefarious sorts from over the pond. Oh, and lots of tea. This all sets the stage for the film to serve as an almost mish-mash of a tale, with no real standout narrative bar looking at parts of the Krays’ lives through the eyes of Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning). After all, it’s Frances who narrates Legend, with her introduction to Reggie being one of the film’s starting points, and from there we get to experience the world of two of Britain’s most notorious criminals whilst Frances also comes to grips with the world that she is now encapsulated in.
What makes Legend really stand out is the double-duty that Hardy pulls. As the brains of the operation, the calmer, calculating, suave Reg, Hardy is very much Tom Hardy at his smoothest. He’s cheeky, chipper, at times full of good intentions, and somebody who has his heart stolen by the loving glances of Frances. As Ron, though, it’s a completely different scenario. Known as the more erratic of the Kray Twins, it’s as Ronnie that Hardy really gets to show his capabilities as his delivers a truly special performance of physicality and of dialogue delivery. For Reg’s straight man, Ron is the more bloodthirsty, illogical, and even outright humourous, of the two twins.
Make no mistake about it, Legend sees Tom Hardy at his finest, yet there is also a sense of what could’ve been with the rest of the cast. Sure, Emily Browning is on fine form as the young woman who finds herself whisked up into a world of gangsters and violence, but the likes of Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the rozzer on the Krays’ tale, and David Thewlis as Leslie Payne, the man who looked after the twins’ finances, seem a little underused, particularly Eccleston. Kingsman’s Taron Egerton does well in short bursts as Mad Teddy, one of Ron’s closest allies, and Jane Wood is great as the mother turning a blind eye to the dirty deeds being carried out by her sons.
On the topic of those dirty deeds, Helgeland’s film is not a film without consequences, yet there also seems to be, not necessarily a glorification of the actions of the Krays, but it feels as if the director paints the brothers in a far more favorable light than many would say they deserve. In Legend, there’s an essence of coolness and humour throughout, and it really does work within the context of the film, but when all is said and done, Ronnie and Reggie carried out some truly horrendous acts that were more-or-less avoided here.
However, Legend is a massively enjoyable film, and Hardy’s double performance is a joy to behold, but the film maybe doesn’t quite have the conviction to make it as legendary as some would’ve hoped.
Special Features: Interviews with cast and crew / Interactive map of East London / Two featurettes
LEGEND / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BRIAN HELGELAND / STARRING: TOM HARDY, EMILY BROWNING, DAVID THEWLIS, CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, TARON EGERTON / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 25TH