Power. Fear. Family.
Even a double dose of Tom Hardy can’t save Brian Helgeland’s Legend, a muddled bio-pic that loosely depicts the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reginald ‘Reggie’ Kray and his identical twin brother, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Kray. Although Hardy dazzles in his double role as the Kray brothers, the film suffers from an uneven screenplay that fails to separate its fact from fiction. With a patchy tone and glossy direction, Legend is a cartoony flick that’s too stylish and too funny given its bleak subject matter and detestable protagonists.
With very little in the way of back-story, Legend opens in the swinging ‘60s with the Krays already holding authority in London’s East End. Narrated by Reggie’s melancholic wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the flick jumps from one plot-point to the next as it attempts to explore the Kray’s empire and their decent into the violence and murder which lead to their inescapable downfall, Reggie’s marriage to Francis and his brother’s sweltering jealousy, Ronnie’s sexual activities (being an openly gay man) and his mentally unstable nature (which is mostly played out for laughs). The picture also looks at the detective in charge of hunting the Krays down, Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read (Christopher Eccleston), the turf war between the football loving Charlie Richardson (a campy Paul Bettany) of the Torture Gang (whom I would’ve loved to have seen more of) and the brother’s dealings with the rich and famous — celebrities and politicians — events that Frances couldn’t possibly have observed.
Don’t get me wrong Legend is a relatively entertaining yarn, thanks to the ever-reliable Tom Hardy, Bronson (2008), whose performance(s) gives each of the twins a distinctly different personality. Donning a false nose, teeth and hair, Ronnie is an unhinged, self-destructive thug — totally oblivious to his wild temperament — who speaks with an adenoidal East End accent and is often seen wearing thick-rimmed glasses. Throughout the flick, patrons are called to feel sorry for Ronnie, as he is painted as an ignorant accomplice, unaware of his psychotic tendencies and malicious actions. His brother Reggie on the other hand, is a smooth, suave, sharply dressed gangster and an all-round natural charmer, his self-assured disposition restraining his brother Ronnie from going all out kray-kray (pun intended). Watching the 37-year-old Hardy seamlessly play opposite himself — in two very diverse roles — truly makes for absorbing cinema, even if his characters are hollow caricatures of their real-life counterparts.
Then we have Emily Browning, Sucker Punch (2011), who plays the underwritten 16-year-old Frances Shea, Reggie’s wife, with her voice-over lazily filling in exposition whilst working as the picture’s framing device. Sweetly wholesome one minute and popping pills the next, Frances lacks an emotional journey as she goes from dreamy to depressed with nothing in between. David Thewlis, The Theory of Everything (2014), does a reasonable job as the Kray’s business manager, Leslie Payne, a refined man who’s generally appalled by the twins’ violent actions while Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), seems to be enjoying himself as on of Ronnie’s lovers, Edward ‘Mad Teddy’ Smith.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, A Knight’s Tale (2001), and based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, Legend has very little in the way of ‘actual’ plot, following a derivative tragedy-in-the-making type narrative, one that often feels like a stylish Guy Ritchie crime flick, even though it’s supposedly based on ‘true events.’ With that in mind, the picture’s historical accuracy is rather shaky, particularly Reggie’s physical attacks on his wife Francis, Ronnie’s open homosexuality and the lack of the Kray matriarch, Violet (Jane Wood), who’s only present in a couple of scenes.
Sporting some impressive camera trickery and digital face-grafting, a sleek mod ‘60s design and dozens of stylish garments by costume designer Caroline Harris, A Knight’s Tale (2001), Legend is a little too shiny for its own good, with the Kray’s lifestyle almost glamorized and the East End showing no signs of real poverty or genuine grittiness. Then there’s the picture’s soundtrack which is riddled with Sixties pop hits such as ‘The Chapel Of Love’ by The Dixie Cups which plays over Reggie and Frances’ wedding — you know, just in case patrons hadn’t have noticed — with these groovy upbeat tracks jarring against the picture’s bleak undertone and moments of genuine gruesomeness; a bizarre creative decision if you ask me.
This brings me to my final point, the picture’s title, Legend. At first glance, one might assume that Legend is some kind of a mythical adventure film, in the spirit of Tom Cruise’s 1985 cult favorite of the same name, but this isn’t the case. Okay, well maybe the Kray brothers are ‘legendary’ gangster figures in their own right. In that regard, I’d say, no, as these boys aren’t as well known as say, Al Capone for instance — I’d never heard of them until the first trailer for Legend dropped. Told through the eyes of Reggie’s wife Frances, the picture’s title doesn’t measure up either, as this young woman certainly didn’t idolize any of these guys; she essentially documents the heyday of their thriving empire, that’s it. So perhaps, the picture’s hefty title is referring to Hardy’s remarkable dual performance with Legend working as a striking showcase for the versatile leading man who saves the flick from absolute mediocrity.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Legend is released through Studio Canal Australia