Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning
Running Time: 131 minutes
With the gangster genre, film-makers often walk that fine line between an overly-judgmental and overly-empathetic view of gangsters. Their aim is very rarely to put their protagonists on trial, nor is it to glorify criminals. No more is this the case than with the infamous Krays, a name that spread like wildfire across 1960s London. Known for rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous at the same time as rubbing blood from their fists, they were charming, loyal, feared and appallingly brutal. For which ever reasons, wrong or right, their legendary status could not be denied. Legend successfully balances judgment and empathy, love and hate, by giving both twins two-sides to their characters (talk about seeing double). As Frances (Emily Browning), Reggie’s love interest, describes, “It took a lot of love, to hate Reggie the way I do”, and through these eyes we too are able to love and hate the twins in equal measure. You love them for their loyalty and their love for one another, but at the same time hate them for the destruction and pain this relationship brings to themselves and those around them.
The pillar and all round selling point of Legend is Tom Hardy’s performance as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Hardy is swiftly becoming an actor with a lot of critical acclaim, but even with all this praise I never expected his performance to be this good. He is mesmerising, magnetic and completely dominates the screen. There was a danger that in Hardy playing both twins, we may have been presented with just the surface characters of Ronnie and Reggie, that the pursuit to differentiate between the two brothers would leave them undeveloped and simplified. This does not happen once. Hardy completely rises to and exceeds the challenge Legend presents to him as an actor. Both portrayals of Ronnie and Reggie are deep and complex. Moreover, there is something very refreshing about Hardy’s acting approach. For example, with the character of Ronnie, a disturbed psychopath, it could be assumed that Hardy might just upcycle his terrifying performance as Charles Bronson in Bronson (2008). However, Hardy creates something completely new; Ronnie is not only utterly terrifying but also astonishingly comical. Who knew Hardy could do comedy so well? Moreover, in praising Hardy’s performance, we must also praise the script, which was absolutely outstanding. Funny, dark, crude and sleek, the script keeps the film afloat and keeps the story stimulating.
There are times where the film seems to lack focus and this is in no small part due to its attention upon the love story between Frances and Reggie. The relationship is standard for a gangster film: a naïve girl falls in love with a charming gangster and then their relationship is then poisoned by the darkness of criminal life. It is not anything original, but I will argue that there is something genuinely touching about the fragility of Frances and Reggie’s story. The problem is that it sometimes detracts from the relationship between Ronnie and Reggie, which is central to the life of the Kray’s. Also, it does seem illogical that the narrative should be from Frances’ point of view given that she knew so little about the twin’s criminal activity.
Despite these rather minor issues, Legend is consistently stylish, well-written and entertaining. It is five star worthy for Tom Hardy’s performance alone, it’s an added bonus that the support cast, directing and writing is top quality too. It’s a wonder whether the title of the film is really alluding to the Krays and not Hardy himself.