The thing that will always be most remembered about ‘Legend’ is Tom Hardy’s performance as Ronnie and Reggie Kray, and the amount of effort that would have gone into the filmmaking.
Other notable stars in Director Brian Helgeland’s intricate juggling act include; Australian Emily Browning (doing a nice job of the accent) as Reggies delicate wife Frances, Paul Bettany as a rival gang leader, and Professor Lupin, otherwise known as David Thewlis, who plays the twins money manager.
The film follows the Kray’s rise to the top in London where they rubbed shoulders with the elite, eventually becoming celebrities themselves. Reggie was the suave and smart leader who knew that staying quiet and calm was the way to do business. Ronnie, on the other hand was off the reservation. On medication that was less useful than a psychiatric facility would have been he was a one man show of chaos. At times hilarious, at some scary, at others downright weird he was not good for the Krays operation.
Leslie Payne (Thewlis) made this clear and Reggie himself knew it but his loyalty to family was too strong for him to act in any significant way. And therein lay the problem.
The film does a lot of things right. For one, it’s a very stylish, and positively aesthetic movie. It balances the crazy humour injected by Ronnie well with the grittier violent scenes. The comedy is something Helgeland could have gone over the top with, and there are many scenes which are genuinely laugh out loud funny, but he held back knowing the story wasn’t all glitz or glamour. The romance between Frances and Reggie is also played out with just the right amount of emphasis. The main conflict of the film isn’t between the Krays and their rivals, it’s between each other, and with others in their gang. Poor Frances gets caught in the middle, always hoping she can turn Reggie onto the straight and narrow. Everyone feels torn between two places, and many of them eventually crack turning what was a humorous adventure into somewhat of a tragedy.
Tom Hardy lifts this film from something that could have been cliché and substance-less into a highly entertaining roller-coaster. One can only imagine the work he put into differentiating his takes as each brother, and the most exceptional thing is that playing Ronnie, you could quite easily believe it was another actor. By now it probably shouldn’t be a surprise, he’s become one of the finest actors of his generation.
Emily Browning is also great and she serves as one of the films strength and weaknesses. The story is essentially told from her point of view and she breaks in with narration throughout the film. Sometimes it adds to what the audience is seeing but sometimes it completely takes them out of the moment and undoes any tension or emotion that was building. The film could have survived without it, and probably would have been better off. One scene in particular involving Frances would have been incredibly powerful if the narration was simply replaced with an affecting piece of music.
The film treated Frances heartbreaking story appropriately and respectfully, refusing to gloss over it in favour of the faster plot elements. Her strength as a woman and her emotional fragility were both done well, a testament to Browning’s performance. However, because the real-life history itself was so jumbled, the film also suffers from this. The pacing is at times very choppy and the film doesn’t flow particularly well. It often cuts from one random interaction to another. Additionally, as important as it was to show Frances story, the tonal shifts between some scenes were quite jarring. While a film shouldn’t flat line, too many fluctuations makes it hard to relate to what is happening. The film is burdened by the disjointed reality it is portraying.
Ultimately, it’s a film that’s well worth watching. Never boring, it will delight and shock you but may also distract you from itself.