Legend is the new film written and directed by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River), which chronicles the rise and fall of British gangsters, and “entrepreneurs”, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Both here are played by Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), who brings his A-game while doing double duty, although the film ultimately serves to showcase his talents rather than a true-to-life adaptation of the brothers Kray.
Set during the sixties, Reggie Kray (Hardy) is an emerging gangster with his eyes set on building his East End Empire, along with his identical twin: Ronnie (Hardy). But when Reggie meets Frances (Emily Browning), he soon finds himself torn between going straight for her or continuing on in the criminal ways that he has become accustomed to. Now, between jail stints and acquiring clubs through extortion, Reggie struggles to find any real balance, which isn’t helped by the police and other gangsters that peruse him constantly, or his self-destructive brother.
The main draw to the film, and the crutch that it relies heavily on, is the dazzling acting of Hardy in both roles. Hardy perfectly creates two distinct characters that it’s hard not to imagine that we’re watching two actors at work. Reggie is a charmer with the ambitions of a businessman and the build of a boxer, while Ronnie is the weirder brother, who is not quite all there and is brutishly open about his homosexuality. Reggie is easily Hardy’s better performance, imbuing him with a real sense of complexity, although there’s some fun to be had in Ronnie’s unpredictability.
The downside here, is that such focus is put on fleshing out the Kray twins, that there is little room left to build up the surrounding characters. Browning suffers the worst, as Frances serves little purpose other than to react to the increasingly crazy shenanigans of the brothers. Her character is mostly presented through her narration of the story, but this proves to be her only real involvement in most of the film’s plot and seems more like a last minute attempt to include any female presence, rather than depicting the experiences of a multidimensional woman. Browning does well to instil some sense of likability into the naïve girl who couldn’t resist the charisma or danger of Reggie, although it becomes problematic in the last act when so much rides on being invested in her emotional journey and there has been very little to actually make the audience care.
The film also stars Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World) as the police officer chasing the boys down, and David Thewlis (The Sweeney) as their accountant turned front man, who both bring gravity to balance Hardy’s demanding performance. Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) appears as Ronnie’s eager-to-please right-hand-man, although there’s the clear implication that there is much more to their relationship, which is only ever mentioned and never truly explored. Colin Morgan (Merlin) also makes an appearance as Frances’ brother, although this proves more distracting than anything, as he eventually serves little purpose other than being an extra person in the room, and there’s disappointingly little pay-off when the story actually does call for his presence.
While Legend isn’t probably the film that Hardy’s performances deserve, it’s still an entertaining watch even with some fairly uneven pacing, and breathes a bit of new life into the gangster genre.