Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Legend

In the 1960s, Ronald and Reginald Kray were the most feared and respected figures in London’s criminal underworld. As well as being excessively violent killers, they earned an unusual celebrity status and have since been labelled ‘icons’ and ‘legends’ – which is in some people’s eyes inappropriate, considering they’re criminals who spent the majority of their lives behind bars for murder. But this iconic status has made them ripe for the entertainment world - with many films, documentaries and books on the ‘terrible twins’. As such, it’s hard to bring anything new to the story now. Brian Helgeland attempts that with Legend, which is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray. Does he succeed?


The first thing to mention, and easily the highlight of the film, is Tom Hardy’s phenomenal performance that elevates the film from good to great. In a dual-performance portraying both twins, Hardy shines and shows immense talent while achieving perfect chemistry with himself! As Reggie, arguably the ‘protagonist’ of the piece, he brings his usual swagger to a role that doesn’t require a huge amount from Hardy – he’s almost portraying himself. It is his performance as the mentally unstable Ronnie, intimidating and amusing in equal measure, that steals the show. As the bulking, volatile and openly homosexual psychopath, Hardy almost falls into comedic caricature with his Ronnie Kray but still brings enough frightening aggression to make the character a scary presence throughout. He’s easily a more threatening and intimidating villain than The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane, a role I personally thought he also excelled in.


Narratively, Legend focuses on a small period of the Krays’ lives rather than their whole lives – which is what 1990’s often-rushed The Krays did. Making the wise decision of starting the film with the twins already in power, the film has plenty of time to show us the historic events of their London reign. We see the infamous murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’, as well as their clubs, their turf war with the Richardsons and their dealings with the mafia. But unfortunately, Legend’s narrative makes a rather glaring downfall in this regard. A lot of the film plays out like a doomed love story, with Reggie’s tumultuous relationship with the young Frances (Emily Browning) taking a huge amount of the film’s runtime – the film is even narrated by Frances, and thus mostly unfolds from her perspective. This might’ve been to get the ladies in to see the film, or at least so those girlfriends and wives forced to watch the film can pretend the film is actually a romance and not a violent crime epic. This might be further evidenced by one of the film’s inaccuracies. In Legend, Reggie’s relationship with Frances begins with a somewhat love at first sight feel. But in reality, it’s widely acknowledged that Reggie only married Frances to get back at her brother, who refused Reggie’s homosexual advances. In any case, the film’s large focus on Reggie’s love life is done at the expense of more detail on the Krays’ business, which you would think would take precedent in a film about the two criminals. But with that being said, I’ve no complaints with Browning’s performance as Frances – except for maybe a slightly weak narration in places.

Legend looks gorgeous throughout with beautiful cinematography and brilliant costume, make-up and locations. This, combined with the superb soundtrack and score from Carter Burwell, makes for a very era authentic experience that will take you right back to 1960s London. Director Brian Helgeland, who also wrote the screenplay, is no stranger to period pieces – having written L.A. Confidential and writing/directing A Knight’s Tale, the latter in particular showing him the power of a good soundtrack. And his screenplay is very strong, with some highly quotable lines from Ronnie throughout. It is just the focus on Frances that lets the film down in places.


To conclude, Legend is still not the perfect Kray film but it is certainly the best one we’ve had yet. It is far more solid than the 1990 Kemp-starring biopic, and without question a thousand times better than the abysmal Rise of the Krays which was released alongside Legend to cash in. Any narrative shortcomings are more than made up for with Tom Hardy’s breath-taking performance, and stunning production across the board makes for an exciting and violent trip back to the 1960s.

Legend doesn’t let a few misfires stop the film from hitting the target. Superb. 4/5.

★★★★☆


Sam Love



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