Legend is a far cry from the Kemp brothers film The Krays back in 1990. It has more style but not necessarily more substance, more comedy but not necessarily more character. But does this make Legend a bad film? Not necessarily. Legend needs to be judged on its own merits, as a film made for entertainment rather than being compared to the more factual Peter Medak film.
Legend tells the story of the rise to infamy of the notorious London gangsters, the Kray brothers. The film focuses on Ronnie and Reggie (both portrayed by Tom Hardy) as they ascend the ranks of London’s criminal underworld by whatever means necessary. What makes this film different from previous recounts of the Krays’ exploits is that it is told from the perspective of Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the wife of Reggie Kray. The film not only recounts the exploits of the fearless brothers, but it also focuses on how their violent and turbulent lifestyle affects the relationship of Frances and Reggie. While this is a fresh viewpoint, it does detract from some of the more interesting aspects of the Krays’ life that could have been further explored within the film. There are also references to Ronnie’s controversial relationship with Mad Teddy Smith (Taron Egerton) and the audience gets an insight into the brother’s tempestuous relationship as they grow, made all the more tempestuous by Ronnie’s deteriorating mental health.
As previously stated, Legend needs to be judged on its own merits, rather than being compared to previous efforts to tell the same story. Firstly, Legend is not here as a biopic. It is entertainment. It is a story based on factual events. If you go into this film expecting a documentary, you WILL be disappointed. If you go into the cinema with an open mind, you will discover a story that is full of love, loneliness, drama and betrayal.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is Tom Hardy. His performance in Legend is astounding (Legend-ary, perhaps?). He plays both brothers with an admirable efficiency. His suave, charming yet seething portrayal of Ronnie is at the same time endearing and upsetting as he portrays his descent into the underworld and his hideous treatment of Frances. As Reggie, he perfectly displays the characters’ unpredictability and lack of pre-occupation with other people’s feelings or opinions (other than Ronnie). What may irritate viewers is the use of Reggie as the comedic element in the film.
However, Hardy’s portrayal of Reggie is not the only irritant. The use of Frances as a narrator throughout the film adds some confusion to the tone of the film. As a film that is set to be a drama about the gang culture of the East End of London, utilizing a female narrator in a similar vein to many romantic dramas feels misplaced. Whilst director Brian Helgeland flexes his writing muscles, toned by writing commercially successful films such as Robin Hood (2010) and Mystic River (2003), in terms of Ronnie and Frances, and to a certain extent Reggie, it does feel as if other aspects have been overlooked. The immense relationship they both had with their mother barely gets any screen time, and Reggie’s relationship with Ted could have been further explored rather than focusing purely on the relationship between Ronnie and Frances.
This being said, the story of Frances and Ronnie is well told and executed with style. Emily Browning plays the part of the strong yet vulnerable Frances well, and it is easy to bond with the character and to believe that she adored Reggie despite his shortcomings. The bond between the two brothers is also tangible, and it is difficult to identify the fact that it is Tom Hardy acting against Tom Hardy. This aspect of the film is produced to perfection with the fight scene between the two, demonstrating both Hardy’s flexibility as a performer and the director’s adeptness at creating a believable and exhilarating action scene between one actor without showing any cracks.
The supporting cast is solid, with Taron Edgerton displaying a cockiness that borders on annoying as Ted. Christopher Ecclestone, Paul Anderson, Colin Morgan and Sam Spruell all give admirable performances and provide well-developed characterizations to play off Ronnie and Reggie as well.
The film can be a little slow in parts, but in general, the pacing is acceptable. Helgeland is able to mix emotion with excitement in a mash-up that works because it is overall entertainment. Facts are not the strong point of the film, but the exhilaration of the fight scenes, the unpredictability of its characters and the incredible performance by Tom Hardy make this easily forgivable. Legend has its shortfalls, but it is an exciting and dramatic tale that is a recommended watch.