Legend‘s premise is very clear – blood is thicker than water and no matter the persuasiveness or intensity of external stimuli, nothing is going to change that.
It’s a biopic of sorts, chronicling the rise to prominence and thereafter, notoriety, of Ronnie and Reggie, the infamous Kray twins.
First things first, the extraordinary double lead performance from Tom Hardy, who, thanks to camera trickery and special effects, portrays both Ron and Reggie.
Director Brian Helgeland has done an admirable job to ensure that despite casting Hardy in both roles, we’re not overly fixated on this fact, constantly looking for the joins in the edits or points of obvious green screen activity. It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s the sort of trick that simply wouldn’t have even been thinkable 10 years ago, so plaudits where they’re due.
You’d also be forgiven for worrying that Legend may suffer therefore from being all style over substance / gimmickry at the expense of a coherent, engaging narrative. It’s certainly a USP and talking point but thankfully Legend, although perhaps a little guilty of selective story telling, does deliver well on that front too.
The Kray twins were certainly chalk and cheese. Reggie – the tough, yet suave and charming type and Ron, a crazed, borderline paranoid schizophrenic. Tom Hardy portrays each with aplomb, infusing both parts with a sense of dark humour; drawing nervous laughter from an audience before the inevitable ‘hit down’ with scenes of spontaneous and gratuitous violence. That said, it’s not relentless and always could be argued as central to the context of the plot.
Right from the outset, we’re made aware that the ascent of the Krays was not something that happened quietly under the radar. Under constant police surveillance, remaining one step ahead of the law was essential, but this is no conventional cops and robbers chase movie. Helgeland approaches the story from an emotional angle, namely Reggie’s struggle to balance private, matters of the heart (Emily Browning is excellent as Reggie’s long-suffering sweetheart, Frances), with his ‘professional’ misdemeanors. It’s a balancing act made all the harder by the ongoing battle to rein in his loose cannon of a brother, Ronnie. ‘Ron’ as he is referred to, is a man who lives in a world of delusion and far-fetched dreams, bordering on the absurd, yet is clearly massively unhinged and yearns for the simple, low-down gangster lifestyle, something that, with the brothers’ star in its ascendancy and the ‘oyster’ that is London town, beginning to open up before them, he and Reggie frequently come to loggerheads about.
Whether it’s a softening of the facts with the passing of the years, or a rose-tinted affection for times gone by, it seems that Krays twins biopics and documentaries tend to gravitate toward a more favourable depiction of their deeds; often seen as loveable rogues who looked after their dear old mum. Indeed, Legend makes no secret of Ron’s love for his mother; on one occasion retreating to the safety of her little terraced house for a slice of cake and a nice cup of ‘post wrong-doings’ tea.
No questions asked.
Legend boasts a stellar support cast including David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri, Paul Bettany, Tara Fitzgerald, Christopher Eccleston, even a cameo for an at first unrecognisable John Sessions, but all of whom make telling contributions to this rather glamorous recollection of London’s gang land in the swinging 60s.
Set to a choice soundtrack of the era, Helgeland tips his hat to Scorcese’s Goodfellas, perhaps also a little to the grandeur of Sergio Leone’s sublime Once Upon a Time In America and there’s maybe even a nod of recognition to some of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work. It all fairly whistles along; a good sign for a film clocking in at well over two hours.
Yes, it’s a selective memory of what was essentially a reign of fear and intimidation by a couple of vicious London gangsters and I’d imagine there’s been a fair bit of artistic licence taken with the facts, but as a film, it works and it works well.
A slick and punchy (no pun intended) re-telling of the story of East London’s favourite sons.