London in the 1960’s. Identical twin brothers Ronnie (Tom Hardy) and Reggie (Tom Hardy) Kray are the two gangsters running the city. They struggle for control while the police go after them, Reggie falls for Frances Shea (Emily Browning) and the two brothers fight amongst themselves.
It was a bit of a struggle to write the preceding synopsis for Legend and if it comes across as light, that’s because it is. The film doesn’t have a particularly strong plot or through line to carry you along. Is it about the Kray’s ruling London and their trouble with the police and other gangs? Is it about the relationship between Reggie and Frances? Is it about the relationship between Reggie and Ronnie? In truth, it’s a little bit of all those things. What it’s not is propelled along by a compelling and interesting plot. The struggle with any biopic is trying to find a point to focus. If you try and tell it all then you don’t delve in to anything hard enough; the problem that most biopics, including the recent Straight Outta Compton had. Better off really to try and tackle one defining event; as seen in the brilliant Selma. But, it would seem in Legend that there isn’t that defining moment for the Krays. As such we skip along through a fairly indeterminate amount of time just taking a look at the life of the Krays without being drawn in to plot, whatever there is of it, with writer/director Brian Helgeland hoping that we will just enjoy our time with the Krays.
Herein lies another problem with the film, one which is ably communicated by the title. Legend gives you the sense that the film is about truly memorable and wining characters. While the Krays are indeed well remembered figures, the film is too in awe of them to really hit the hard truths. The film wants you to like the Krays and enjoy spending two and half hours of your life with them. The cinematography, though nice, gives everything a heightened sense of reality, making things glow and doesn’t represent the true reality of the London of the sixties. The film’s tone is light, almost falling into farcical, and it doesn’t like to really show the Krays for the violent criminals that they were. Any violence is quick and mildly comedic, including a fight scene that involves hammers, knuckle dusters and iron bars yet somehow very little blood, and the one piece of violence that really should have been tackled is instead panned away from like the film is scared that you will like the Krays less for it. What we are left with is a knockabout crime caper that doesn’t give you the dark truth of the Kray’s time as gangster rulers of London.
The film’s saving grace is its cast. Packed with great actors, though a few of them are disappointingly underused (Christopher Eccleston and Paul Bettany), they help to lift the material and give the viewer some entertainment. As expected, the film’s ace in the hole is the brilliant Tom Hardy playing the two very different twins. Reggie is the handsome and lovable charmer who enjoyed the high life of socialising and club owning, hoping to distance himself from the more criminal elements of it. Ronnie, who bears more than a passing resemblance to The Day Today’s Peter O’hanrahan, is a paranoid schizophrenic who enjoys the old school gangster violence and intimidation and who was open about his homosexuality. The CGI joins are absolutely seamless and you’ll be scratching your head as to how they pulled off the twin’s big fight scene. Tom Hardy continues not to put a foot wrong in his performances. Emily Browning gets a slightly weaker deal, stuck with a pointless and clichéd voiceover and trapped between the bigger performances of Hardy.
Legend is misled by its title and its over fondness for its lead characters. Though there is some fun to be had, Tom Hardy always brings his A game is of course eminently watchable, the film certainly doesn’t attain memorable status, let alone legendary.