Biopic, Brian Helgeland, British Crime, Cinema, Crime, Emily Browning, Film, Frances Shea, Gangster Movie, Kray Twins, Legend, London, Movie Review, Reggie Kray, Ronnie Kray, The Krays, Thriller, Tom Hardy
“Legend” is the latest British crime film to tackle the infamous Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, both played by Tom Hardy. There’s a lot to like about this brutal thriller, with Tom Hardy’s performance(s) highlighting the fact that he’s one of the best actors around right now. However, Brian Helgeland’s film suffers from a real lack of focus and identity, and as a result it feels drawn out and confused, failing to leave a lasting impression following its lacklustre conclusion.
The film chronicles the events which led to the Kray brothers ‘ruling London’ and concludes with their downfall, which is ultimately caused by their self-destructive tendencies. “Legend” also tells the story of how Reggie met Frances Shea (Emily Browning), his future wife, and it attempts to take a stab at the psychological torment that she suffered at his hands. Sadly, Frances doesn’t feel like a fully-formed character, as we are told immediately that she’s ‘fragile’ and her personality follows from there. We never find out if she had a pre-existing mental condition or if Reggie was just a terrible husband (although he definitely wasn’t a good husband), and as such it isn’t clear what we’re supposed to make of her. It’s a sensitive topic because this is a true story, but I don’t think that she was done justice; I never felt a connection to her as a character, nor did I feel that she showed a different side to Reggie, so her inclusion lacked any real weight.
Their relationship wasn’t really developed because we didn’t see Reggie’s affection for Frances behind closed doors, nor did we see Frances stand up to Reggie for breaking multiple promises. There was no honesty or affection in the relationship as portrayed in this movie, nor was there a proper transition from love to hatred between the pair, so their conflict just wasn’t very interesting.
As I’ve mentioned, the film lacks a central focus and doesn’t seem to have a clear goal. I’m not really sure what Brian Helgeland was going for at all – is it a straight-up gangster movie? Is it a tragic romance? Or is it a full-on biopic? I struggle to see how it can profess to be any of these things.
We don’t see Ronnie and Reggie being gangsters very often – they’re not out breaking legs and busting balls all the time. It can’t really be seen as a tragic romance because there’s no romance to speak of between Reggie and Frances – we never see them have an intimate moment, in fact, we don’t even see them kiss with passion; we see nothing but a gangster exploiting a young woman. Finally, I don’t think that “Legend” can be taken as a true-to-life biopic, because there are too many discrepancies in the way that the brothers are depicted – it’s all speculative rather than factual. So, this film ends up touching on each of these aspects yet failing to execute on all counts, making it a bit of a mess overall.
The performances are good, which I feel is the main thing to take away from the film, but they can’t elevate it to an exceptional level. Tom Hardy is excellent as always, showing that he’s the best in the business at playing unhinged men with raw physical power. He comes across as capable of doing real damage as both men, and he really does seem crazy as Ronnie, even if that leads to his performance verging on ridiculous at certain points.
Alas, not even Tom Hardy could save “Legend” from mediocrity, as it doesn’t do anything that hundreds of films from the genre haven’t done before; we’ve seen rivalling factions, psychotic gangsters, and the larger-than-life nature of crime in the past, so there’s nothing exciting to show here. Furthermore, the unnecessary voiceover from Emily Browning acted as a constant distraction, and I can’t help but think that the film would’ve been better served if it chose one particular focus, or at least had a clear tone. It tried to be funny and threatening, but at the end of the day it didn’t make me laugh and I couldn’t take it seriously – it was just a bit dull. Without a clear direction, “Legend” falls into the category of okay but not memorable, which is perhaps the worst thing that a movie can be.