– by David Morgan-Brown
The Kray twins were two British gangsters/brothers who seemed to rule the underworld of East End London in the early ’60s, before their shortcomings become the fall of them and they were imprisoned for life. We already had a film about their exploits back in 1990 with The Krays, but now after the two have died in prison comes a more modern retelling of their story, one with a more Scorsese-esque fascination with their crime dealings that make Legend a bit of a shameless indulgence in the fantasy of the world of crime.
Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) is a rather relaxed fellow, especially for someone involved in the sort of crime he’s involved in. Despite a few stints in jail (which he’s sometimes able to weasel out of), he has a rather ordinary life – he takes care of the clubs he owns and often visits them, he has his lovely girlfriend Frances (Emily Browning) by his side who doesn’t care too much (at first) about his career, and he gets along well with his friends and family. He also takes care of his brother, Ronnie (also Tom Hardy), who has gone through a bit of a psychotic phase, but has been released from his institution (after a bit of arm-twisting with his psychiatrist) and is showing off an equal amount of determination in their “businesses” and an unrestrained brutal dominance.
Tom Hardy entirely succeeds in his dual performance – it’s not only that he’s punched in two great performances in the one film, but these characters really do seem different and it’s easy to forget they are played by the same actor, which is a testament to Hardy’s continually growing skills as an actor. The effects and cinematic trickery to make Hardy appear twice in one shot (sometimes interacting or fighting with himself) is astonishing and seamless.
One of the first noticeable aspects about Legend is the dialogue, which is superbly scripted in a colloquial manner, complimented by the Cockney accents, that’s suited to these late-‘50s-early-‘60s London areas and sounds a bit similar to the kitchen-sink British films of this time period. This is one of those screenplays that makes the dialogue such a joy to listen to, and through such great acting, it makes it all the more better.
Although the finer details are what make the film interesting, the overall structure of how the tale of the Krays has been put together is relatively formulaic – they grow in popularity and infamy in the gangster scene, reap their “rewards”, enjoy their excess, get too caught up in it, and are eventually taken down. It’s the run-of-the-mill basic gangster archetype that doesn’t make the film the sum of its parts, rather make each individual scene enjoyable on its own. It owes a little bit to Goodfellas, playing out a bit like a British version of that film, with Frances’ narration filling us in on the story and her perspective on it in hindsight (similar to that of Karen Hill’s), as well as copying Goodfellas’ indulgence in the lifestyles of the gangsters, rather than presenting itself as yet another moral lesson.
Legend isn’t quite a well-rounded or coherently-woven tale of the Krays, but it is a suitably entertaining and relatively straight-forward account of the high-class gangster lifestyle and inevitable wrongdoings they got up to. Most of the time, any movie with Tom Hardy is worth watching, especially when he’s in it twice, so it’s fortunate that his astounding acting is made worthy by top-notch dialogue.