Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton, Chazz Palminteri
Written by Brian Helgeland and (based on the book “The Profession of Violence”) John Pearson
Running Time: 131 mins
Release date: 9th September 2015
There has been a continuous fascination with Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the twin brothers who virtually run the East End Of London during the 60’s. Countless books have been written, huge amounts of TV documentaries have been made yet only three films, the most famous being the 90’s version starring Spandau Ballet brothers, Martin and Gary Kemp. Now comes a fresh re-examination into the lives of the notorious gangsters and while it is certainly problematic, it does have the performance of the year so far.
60’s London and the police, led by Nipper Reid, are desperate to bring down the slowly growing empire of the Krays. With rival gangs wanting a slice of their patch, the Americans wanting to muscle in with casinos, the Krays only have each other to rely on and yet Reggie, the cool, calm one, fears is more psychotic, dangerous brother, Ronnie. In the middle of their world stands Francis, the girl who Reggie is in love with, yet refuses to give up his life to be with her.
L.A. Confidential writer Brian Helgeland manages to capture the moods and the settings of the East End brilliantly, with spot-on set designs and incredibly high production values. Sometimes his script, based on one of the numerous biographies, has that authentic London quality, brimming with the choicest words and language. While is direction is neat and straight-forward, never having to add fancy camera angles, just allowing the story and characters to play out, the film at a hefty 131 mins, is slightly baggy in places and could have been trimmed by about 20 minutes.
Where the real problems come from is making the Krays almost sympathetic. It sits uncomfortably when you know that these two men were responsible for countless acts of incredible violence and yet we watch as they are kind to the locals, the rich who frequent their clubs and to their mother, who, unlike the previous Krays film, isn’t portrayed here as the one pulling the strings in the background but just a caring and considerate woman who the boys loved very much.
At its very core, this is a love story between Reggie and Frances, while being an examination of how different the twins really were. Reggie’s feelings for the pretty young girl runs through the whole film and his yearning to give her the perfect life the only way he knew, plays in his hands. Although thankfully by the end, when she refuses his advances, Reggie is shown as the monster he really was. Meanwhile Ronnie, an openly gay man who spends his time with his beloved Teddy and destroying everything he touches, is made out to be rather comical and something sadly pathetic.
One thing that is lacking is the graphic violence. Yes, it can be tough viewing and brutal, yet not to the extent you would expect. Sitting watching the film, you wait for the infamous “Cheshire Grin” scene, in which a mouth is split open by a sword, yet it never comes. The flashes of violence are quite graphic but you feel that Helgeland has purposefully restrained himself in order to tell the story and not to exploit them.
The performances from the very strong cast, is exceptional. Former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston brings weight to the role of the copper after them, even though it’s a small role. David Thewlis is superbly slimey as the Krays business manager and Taron Egerton, last seen in Kingsman, is solid as Teddy. Emily Browning as Frances, who narrates the story as well, captures a young girl caught in a world of violence yet struggling to stay away from the man she loves wonderfully. She is totally believable and utterly captivating.
Yet this film belongs to Tom Hardy’s double performance of the Krays. He manages to become both men, both different in voice and statue, physically changing so you believe you are watching two very different actors playing two very different parts. If anything, the reason to see this film is for Hardy, proving once again that he is one of the country’s greatest screen presences. Remarkable.
Legend might not be the ultimate Kray movie and I’m pretty sure there will be others. What I doubt is if you will see a finer show of acting than in Hardy. He alone is worthy of giving the film 5 stars, yet for the tone and the pacing, it does lose a star. Shame really, because after this, Hardy will definitely become a legend.