Famous for leading London’s East End underbelly for the best part of a decade, the Kray twins have been reasonably prominent in our nation’s cultural conscience ever since. Having already been resurrected for the purposes of the 1990 bio-flick, featuring Gary and Martin Kemp, the Krays once again appear before us in Brian Helgeland’s Legend, a film deeply concerned with the legacy and hence distracted from depth of character or story. It’s already the 1960s by the time we meet the twins and they’re already top dogs of the neighbourhood. Ronnie has recently been released from both prison and psychiatric care whilst Reggie is about to fall for a girl. The Kray’s story is told through the narration of the girl in question, soon-to-be-gangster-wife Frances, played by Emily Browning. The brothers are portrayed by Tom Hardy who both soars and sinks as a result. Supposedly Hardy was interested in playing Ronnie whilst his director wanted him for Reggie – the duplicated result is their compromise but also a stark sign that Hardy needed to listen to his director. The film revolves around Reggie, whose affection and time is strained between his brother, wife and work. Ronnie takes something of a backseat as we watch Reggie try to balance his loyalties. Legend struggles to provoke any tension or dread and ultimately feels like more of a love triangle between responsibility, family and lifestyle. Rich, substantial talent is present here in the form of Paul Bettany, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston all of which is tragically underused; wasted on a Tom Hardy ego-project. Hardy himself ignites as Reggie, capturing his frustrations, visions and intentions. Meanwhile, Reggie becomes comic relief following his failure to be remotely scary.
Throughout Legend I was reminded of the gangster greats. Everything that makes the likes of Goodfellas and The Godfather great is absent from Legend. There needs to be fear and unease when conversations grow tense or heated. We need to root for either their triumph or comeuppance. We don’t need to like them or even admire them but we always need to care about them. There is no depth or complexity here which stems from the film’s lack of direction. Hardy needed to be reigned in at times and there’s no sign of a director’s voice or command here; barely the trace of a whisper. Another result of this is the film’s clunky pacing and structure. There’s no visible beginning, middle or end which would be fine if one was gripped. With no defined arc and no characterisation to care about, you’re left feeling impatient and lost in a chaotic 130 minute vanity piece. We’re told Frances is fragile yet there is no sign of fragility. Ronnie is a schizophrenic but never seems to come undone. Reggie moves from cobbled streets to local pubs in a 1960s London which lacks authenticity because we never really get to see it. Greeting us at the start and shoving us out of the door at the end, Browning’s painfully written monologues seal the whole thing with an insincere, cartoonish kiss.
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