The story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray is a well known one, mainly because of Peter Medak hanging out their dirty laundry for all to see on the big screen in 1990. Writer/director, Brian Helgeland, presents his own take on the twins’ rise and fall in the newly released biopic, Legend, but unfortunately he has only managed to create a series of lifeless sparks that never really ignite.
The Krays’ lives are explored through a variety of snapshots meaning the film is almost plotless; it’s difficult to locate its purpose. What’s lacking in storyline is made up for tenfold in Tom Hardy’s dual performance though as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. His fascinating insight into the similar, but yet so different, twins’ psyche steals the show. The mesmerising display captivates the audience as he switches between roles, making it a little easier to forgive and forget the poor plot.
The film avoids telling the backstory to the Krays’ power and instead opens with them already in charge of the East End. The poorly written script would have benefited from a more chronological plot as it is difficult to engage with the characters on a personal level. Their development into hardened gangsters is missed, and the relationships that surround them might as well not exist as everyone, other than Tom Hardy, gets so little screen time. Even the omnipresent narrator, Frances (Emily Browning), Reggie’s girlfriend and then wife, is absent throughout the majority of the film.
The narration itself is odd, as her boring, emotionless character doesn’t get much of a look in. It’s almost as though Helgeland has attempted to create a nostalgic reflection on Frances’ time with Reggie, but this doesn’t really make sense as their relationship isn’t centralised or fully explored, and ultimately it leads to her suicide which isn’t exactly the climatic moment in the film. Normally, a narrator’s reflection offers an alternative perspective or leads to some resolution, but Frances is so uninvolved, it’s hard to believe she can actually offer anything into the mindsets of either criminal or even understood the illegal antics that occurred.
Tom Hardy must have thought all his dreams had come at once when he was offered this role as it is the ultimate opportunity to showcase his skills by drifting in between characters. His portrayal of Ronnie is exceptional as despite being unnecessarily violent, he still expresses a certain charm that makes the audience empathise with the notorious criminal. A gay, mentally unstable man in the 60s wouldn’t have been a popular guy, and Hardy captures the difficulties Ronnie would have had to overcome and the strength he would have needed to gain respect in the prejudiced society. Playing someone who has paranoid schizophrenia is no easy task, but Hardy does a great job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seat; it is never certain whether he is going to erupt into a violent frenzy or say something mildly comical. Unfortunately, Ronnie is the downfall to the twins’ empire as his forceful attempts to build his reputation goes one step too far and his volatility is his demise.
Aspects of the Krays’ flashy lifestyles are highlighted in Legend, which is convenient as the the whole film is a series of flashes: flashes of glamour, comedy, violence, romance (it’s so inconsistent, it’s hard to keep up!) – it’s all very ‘flashy’ but ultimately, the glamorous lifestyles they chase doesn’t result in their happiness, but their misery.
Legend won’t go down in history as a box office great. However, Hardy has firmly secured his place on the Hollywood A-list while some of his lines will surely be remembered for a long time to come – although, some of the cockney slang (and even the accent) may be lost on some Americans. If Helgeland has done anything, he’s projected Hardy into the spotlight and in doing so, he’s briefly extended the life of his film.