Legend (2015)

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Film review of the crime film about the Kray twins, gangsters in 1960’s East End London. Starring Tom Hardy as twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the film is directed by Brian Helgeland.

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Director: Brian Helgeland. Anton Capital Entertainment/Cross Creek/Studio Canal et al ( )

Crime

4 Stars Very Good/Lots to enjoy

Cast & credits

Producers: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver.
Writer: Brian Helgeland.
Camera: Dick Pope.
Music: Carter Burwell.
Sets: Tom Conroy.

Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Colin Morgan, Paul Anderson, Aneurin Barnard, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell.

Synopsis

The story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.

ReviewLegend poster

Each week I prepare a list of the new films being released in UK cinemas, patiently searching for official websites and/or social media accounts (and by the way, this can sometimes be like finding a needle in a Googlestack), referencing relevant news articles and other reviews.

Despite the slog it is (sometimes a full afternoon’s work) it has it’s rewards, always leaving me clued about what’s coming out and also helping me to identify trends and fashions in the cinema.

For instance, movie houses have been awash with so many East End gangster crime thrillers over the past 18 months, it is almost becoming a bona fide sub genre in itself.

Legend then is the hotly anticipated examination of the relationship between the two most famous men of this ‘profession’ (or should that be infamous? It’s difficult to separate the terror of their violence from the celebrity, wealth and notoriety it brought them) Ronnie and Reggie Kray and could probably be the best of them. It certainly has a quality leading performance(s) from Hardy as both halves of this crime couple.

Legend still

It can be easy to overplay someone’s role in the success of a film, but given Hardy is on astonishingly great menacing form here, this one would have suffered markedly without his involvement, although it’s difficult to see who else the production team could have cast.

Hardy is more than just the brutalistic backbone of a gangster flick as his playing of both personalities is nuanced, with depth and even delicacy. They are two sides of the same coin of course, but with his mastery of physical acting he manages to separate the two clearly for the audience. With a few physical tics (Ronnie’s huskier voice, his eyes narrower, his more upright manner of walking) he nails this.

Although at times he comes across as being slightly pantomimic, just a tad too exaggerated, it is nevertheless an electrifying and gripping job that commands you to watch him as closely as if he walked into your local on a Saturday as you enjoy a quiet pint.

It helps too that he bears more than just a passing resemblance to the men themselves, especially as Ronnie wearing his ubiquitous spectacles. He’s certainly a better look than either of the Kemp brothers.

It can be difficult for the other players to come out with any credit, but there is commendable acting circling around Hardy. Egerton has sweetness and steel in equal measures as Ronnie’s much-loved, outsider wife Frances. Thewlis as a canny crime colleague and especially Spruell as Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie sprinkle extra flavour.

Helgeland, whose screenplay for L.A. Confidential (1997) won him an Academy Award, easily mixes the extreme, visceral violence with a cutting, cockney wit and knockabout physical comedy that blurs the boundaries of acceptable social morality for the audience. For the stand out ‘Pig and Whistle’ fight scene, despite the twin’s deranged brawling, they are positioned as quasi-heroes, we practically cheer them on as we wince at the sound of breaking bones and pummeled noses. As the film progresses, their greed, swaggering arrogance and indifference to other’s misery refocuses our view of them.

Scenes like this and the casino fight between the twins also illustrate the clever camerawork, pre-production planning, choreography and trick effects employed throughout the film.

The brothers are both unpredictable and prone to acts of incredible viciousness, hence why the film dawdles along, emitting atmosphere and copious foul language on what can feel like a long trek to nowhere, Hardy reduced to flinging his well-tailored suits and slicked down hair at the audience. We’re shocked and made to squirm in our seats then when the action erupts, big time, at roughly twenty minute intervals.

Helgeland’s accent on the beautiful period recreation (did the East End ever look this glamorous and clean?) and exploring the psychology and interpersonal relationships of the brothers and their nearest and dearest is what helps the film sprint ahead of others of this ilk.

He also deals with Ronnie’s homosexuality in a refreshingly matter-of-fact, casual manner. He calmly announces prior gay conquests to an American mafiosa, to which hardly an eyelash is batted. Even his mother calmly enquiries if a boyfriend will be sleeping with him. This neatly mixes the progressive attitude of the sixties with how being gay is viewed in the modern era. It is the best part of a script that none the less feels a bit samey, as if nothing especially new is being revealed, and we linger too long on the surface sheen.

See the official trailer on Youtube.

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