Legend: Film Review
Cast: Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany
Director: Brian Helgeland
There's no disputing the Krays were synonymous with violence, intimidation and gangland rude in 1960s London.
This latest film to explore their riotous regime is pitched more as a romantic love triangle between Ronnie and Reggie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy) and Emily Browning's Frances Shea who's a bit fragile, according to her brother and desperate to rebel against her mother's wishes.
Ronnie is the more volatile of the pair, a sort of pug-nosed Michael Caine with a cold in Hardy's hands, but whose desire to rule with an iron fist sees him at loggerheads with the more suave and calmer Reggie, who believes himself to be a gangster prince at heart, but won't publicly acknowledge that. Into their world comes Frances, a naive waif of a girl whose fragility is at odds with the harshness of the reality of the Krays, but who's willing to be swept off her feet and seduced by Reggie.
Oscar winning director Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) wastes no time in setting this latest version of the Krays up as a stylish look at the duo - and something quite distant from the Kray twins outing starring the Kemp brothers from back in the 1980s. But yet, despite the pristine veneer of the occasional bursts of violence (bizarrely set to music that sounds like a bad 70s style sitcom, no doubt to detract from the seething ugliness of the attacks), there's scant character progression at key moments.
Shea's decline is more immediate than gradual, and feels a little shoehorned in, a casualty of the escalating gang tensions and the police's sudden desire (and the narrative's sudden drive) to take the Krays out once and for all. It's a shame because Browning's porcelain fragility is neatly juxtaposed to the ugliness around her - even if her narration and voiceover begins to irritate as the film continues, preferring to use this as an expository tool rather than witness events.
Shea needs to be the eyes and ears of the Krays, a window into their world into the beauty and ugliness of it all, and sadly, she's too sidelined in this to make an effective story-telling tool or character.
Thankfully though, Hardy and Hardy's searing and savage turns as the suited-and-booted bastard Krays really stand head and shoulders above anything else in this. Helgeland wisely holds the duo from appearing on screen together (save for back of head shots) until an epic showdown where Hardy takes on Hardy as the Krays scrabble at each other.
And from here onwards, Legend takes on a life of its own as the charismatic charm of the Krays becomes a balancing act between outright monsters and Casino like heroes. (Helgeland's Scorsese influences are worn on his sleeve - both from Goodfellas and Casino, and complete with swooping one takes that looks awfully familiar). But Hardy never once loses sight of the nuances of the character which are needed to keep these two apart (even if the script feels the best way to do it is to push them into ACME cartoon comedy territory)
Ultimately, Legend stands on its gimmick, rather than the rest of its story-telling. There are a few story-telling niggles throughout this stylish pic that pick away at you throughout, but not for one moment, will you be distracted by Hardy's Legend-ary performance.