The gangster movie has been a staple of British cinema for many moons now. Be it Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Get Carter (1971) or Sexy Beast (2000), the criminal underworld has been well represented by the Brits, paving the way for more than a few cheap knock offs over the years, with East End wide boys becoming a stereotype worn in a little too much.
The most famous of said East End wide boys were real life criminal king pins, the Kray twins, cheeky chappy man about town Reggie, and his less-than-stable brother, Ronald. The duo were previously brought to the big screen in 1990’s The Krays, with the Kemp brothers, Martin and Gary, of Spandau Ballet fame, in the eponymous roles – quite bizarrely, in retrospect. This time around, Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) steps in as both Reggie and Ronald Kray, in a quite exceptional all round performance.
Though the advertising for the film may claim that Legend chronicles the rise (and fall) of the Kray twin’s criminal empire, in terms of the film holding up its end of the bargain on that front, it’s a mixed bag. The nitty gritty of their rise throughout the ’60s is mostly glossed over in reality. There are moments – particularly earlier in the film -where we witness the whirlwind of chaos the duo wreaked on London, but for the most part it kind of just happens; with any roadblocks on route to their rise to the top being swiftly moved with little threat or friction.
The meat of the film is in the relationship between the two brothers, and that of Reggie and his neglected wife Frances (Emily Browning). Browning puts in a solid performance, making a marked improvement on her drab showing in 2014’s Pompeii. There’s much more for her to get her teeth into here in her tragic role, and she benefits greatly for it. Despite the feeling that Frances should probably have been a little wiser as to what she was getting herself into when marrying Reggie, she’s a sympathetic character nonetheless.
It’s also very welcome to see Tom Hardy back in a deeper role, clearly revelling in his double duty as the twin gangsters. His Reggie is full of charm and charisma, but it’s his turn as the supposedly more psychotic of the pair, Ronald, that is the more interesting of the two; he’s deeply disturbed, and yet his unflinching honesty over what he is (“We’re talking about being gangsters, that’s what we are”), and who he is (“I prefer boys. Italians, sometimes Greek, but I am not prejudiced”) is refreshing in comparison to his in brother’s denial and lies.
Hardy is extraordinary, with both roles entirely distinguishable separately, and whilst he has strong chemistry with the wider cast as whole, he proves that nobody works better with Tom Hardy than Tom Hardy himself. Technically the execution of Hardy acting alongside himself is flawless, and this is helped immeasurably by the actor’s confident and impressive display.
The thumping soundtrack works beautifully in unison with Tom Conroy’s (Vikings) excellent production design to bring 1960s London to life, and whilst the initial pace of the film is zippy, it could have used a firmer hand in the editing room, with a flabby middle portion bogging things down. It manages to right itself towards the end, but the lost momentum certainly has a detrimental effect, without being a deal breaker.
Tom Hardy is the star of the show, and you’ll want to see it for him alone. Legend might not be up there with the very best of British gangster movies as a whole, but I’m happy to put Hardy’s performance up alongside some of the genre greats, such as Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and Michael Caine in Get Carter – and that’s not bad company for him to be keeping by any stretch.
An imperfect film with a pitch perfect performance from Tom Hardy you won’t want to miss.
Rating (out of 5):