Legend has nothing to do with Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy film, instead it dramatises the rein of infamous London crime lord brothers Reggie and Ronny Kray. The film is based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson. Like the recent Whitey Bulger biopic, Black Mass, Legend is a flawed but fascinating film in which a remarkable central performance just manages to overcome the pitfalls of an erratic and at times uninspired script.
The Kray Brothers and their gang ‘The Firm’ purportedly ruled the London underworld in the 1960’s and were alleged to have been involved in robberies, extortion, bashings and murders. Despite their crimes the brothers seemed to generate an unusual affection in London’s working class East End and even achieved celebrity status hobnobbing with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Joan Collins and Barbara Windsor. While the dangerously volatile Ronnie lived a deluded outlaw fantasy, Reggie apparently wanted to become more ‘legitimate’, buying nightclubs and casinos in London and doing lucrative deals with the American mafia. With Scotland Yard on their tail and the volatile Ronnie’s wreaking havoc, however, the Krays’ exulted status couldn’t last forever. Legend not only depicts the brothers’ destructive criminal activities but also the weird love triangle between Reggie, Ronnie (both played by Tom Hardy) and Reggie’s long-suffering wife Frances (Emily Browning).
The prolific Tom Hardy, aided by cutting-edge CGI, does a superb job of conveying the seemingly unbreakable bond between the Kray brothers while capturing their markedly different personalities. Hardy is mesmerising as Reggie depicting him as a disturbingly violent yet, at times, suave, charismatic almost Bond-like figure who was also a wily leader. Hardy gives the dangerously unstable and paranoid Ronnie a few more obvious cinematic tics such as a crazed stare but still conveys through Ronnie a constant tension and menace. Australia’s Emily Browning is terrific as Frances, convincingly showing how her romantic optimism gave way to stoicism in the face of Reggie’s criminal behaviour then outright fear. The supporting cast of gangsters are also believably threatening while David Thewlis is excellent as the business-savvy Leslie Payne the man to whom Reggie apparently entrusted much of the operation and the man who unfortunately incurred Ronnie’s displeasure.
Legend is visually striking as Director Brian Hegeland, production designer Tom Conroy and cinematographer Dick Pope cleverly recreate swinging 60’s London. They manage to evoke the excitement of a city at the centre of popular culture as well as the menace of its mean streets. While the acting and the depiction of 1960’s London are impressive, the film suffers from a number of problems, the most obvious of which is a disappointing script. Legend adopts an episodic structure which, despite the fact that individual segments are riveting, deprives the film of momentum or a sense of characters evolving. Unlike Casino, Goodfellas and Scarface all of which thrillingly depicted a crime figure ascending the underworld ranks and clearly conveyed the scope of their criminal operation, Legend, like Black Mass fails to convey the extent or the mechanics of the Krays’ criminal empire.
Legend also employs the questionable device of having Frances frequently narrate events. This provides an interesting feminine counterpoint to the Krays’ masculine thuggery – an approach mirrored in the film’s soundtrack which emphasises impassioned female torch songs over mid-sixties male guitar rock – but it also seems illogical as Frances was not privy to many of the events she describes. Reggie, the film suggests actually went out of his way to hide his criminal world from Frances.
The film also provides very little backstory about the Kray brothers and makes almost no attempt to explain how the brothers became the way they were or how they rose to these powerful positions in the crime world. The 1990 biopic The Krays provided much more detail about the brothers’ upbringing and early criminal life.
Legend is a flawed film but its virtues, most notably Hardy’s masterful performance, still make it worthwhile.
Nick’s rating: ***.
Genre: Crime drama.
Classification: MA 15+.
Director(s): Brian Helgeland.
Release date: 15th October 2015.
Running time: 131 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
- What’s on ‘Built For Speed’, Friday 16th October 2015
- Film review: LAWLESS, from Built For Speed
- Film review: EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN, from Built For Speed
- Film review: BLACK MASS, from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: KIDNAPPING MR HEINEKEN, from ‘Built For Speed’