Taken at its best Legend is a character piece, presenting Reggie and Ronnie Kray as two brothers who are totally different in nature but could still almost be opposing sides of the same person. One is measured and sophisticated using violence in a calculated way and the other is a psychotic thug who is deliberate but clumsy in the way he behaves around others. As you are probably aware, Tom Hardy plays both parts (which adds to the whole dichotomy of man reading) and it is a real showcase for the actor. This isn’t one of those dual performances where subtle differences let you know which guy you are watching though, as with Nicholas Cage in Adaptation or Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, the mannerisms and make up set them clearly apart. Instead you get to see Hardy’s impressive versatility. Across his filmography he has played fighters and fathers, heroes and hoods, Bill Sykes and Bane but all that variety is here in this one movie. The test in films like this is whether you can forget you are watching one actor playing two people and in this case you certainly can. (Well mostly, there are a couple of occasions where the movie magic doesn’t quite line up and he is looking past rather than at himself. This kills the effect a little.)

Unfortunately, while this film has two great performances at its centre, it also has two significant problems. The first we can call the ‘Wolf of Wall Street factor’ in that everyone in the film is completely unlikable. This was always going to be a problem when telling the true story of two brutal and uncompromising gangsters; clearly these are not nice men and neither are the people around them. There are a number of familiar faces on screen including David Thewlis, Paul Bettany and Duffy but on this occasion it is hard to properly enjoy their company. 

Some effort is made to deal with this. Ronnie is actually quite a funny character in places but amusing and endearing are not the same thing. The comedy doesn’t help get past the fact he is a selfish, dangerously thoughtless and unpredictable nutcase. Reggie by contrast is certainly charming at the start but all the while you know he is a nasty criminal and by the end even this falls away and it is completely impossible to identify with him. 

Writer/director Brian Hegeland tries to give the movie its much needed hero in the shape of Frances, Reggie’s wife. She is a more tragic and sympathetic character but even she is no innocent. She knows what Reggie is before they get together and while she in no way deserves the things that happen to her she could have avoided them. It is interesting that her sorrow comes from her husband’s selfishness and refusal to prioritise her, not from the extortion and bullying of other people that she knows he is guilty of. Like all the actors in the film, Emily Browning gives a strong performance but Frances is essentially as amoral as everyone else. 

This lack of a champion won’t bother everyone but personally I’d have like to have seen a Krays film that centred, The Untouchables style, on the police who worked to bring them down. It may have been the brothers own hubris, stupidity and violent impulses that ultimately caused their fall but there could have been a gripping story surrounding Nipper Read who, as maintained by the title of his own ghost written book, was ‘the man who nicked the Krays’. We get the tiniest glimpses of this narrative with Christopher Ecclestone’s portrayal of the Detective Chief Superintendent in question but his inclusion is almost a bit of an afterthought and with a less magnetic actor he may not have made much impression at all.

The other issue is that the story is already quite well known and the film makers do not seem to be aware of this. There have been films in the past where the audience already know where they are going, from Apollo 13 to Cinderella, but the journey is still managed in such a way to provide tension and surprises along the way. This is just a fairly straight telling of a story that has been told before. There are new theories about the gangster’s lifestyle and crimes that have come out recently but this film doesn’t entertain them. You really need to know nothing about the Krays, who they went up against, who their family members were and what they were jailed for to get the most out of this movie. For this reason it may play better to a foreign audience. In the UK these boys are already the stuff of legend.

 The Ripley Factor:

Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men? Are the women in the film believable as real people? Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism? Kind of, kind of and kind of. 

Legend could easily have been a very male focussed film and the inclusion of Frances successfully avoids this but as stated she is not a great role model. She is also very passive. The only person she effectively stands up to is her mother.

The Krays’ own mother was an integral part of the 1990 film about the brothers but she is marginalised here, there being little suggestion that she had any great influence on their lives.

Is this one for the kids?

As soon as you see that little red circle with an 18 in it come up at the start of a film you know are going to get a lot of graphic violence, strong swearing or nudity. Legend doesn’t have any of the latter.


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