Everyone loves a biopic. Actually, the Academy Awards love a biopic but that’s not the point today. Real people are often more fascinating than ones we can create, so it makes complete sense to make films about them? But multiple ones? That’s another issue. After all, at some point you are just exploiting someone’s celebrity. So we come the Krays. The infamous East End gangsters have had many films made about them since their reign of terror came to an end, and now in 2015, we have to wonder what Hollywood can do that’s so new. Well, that’s where we look to Legend.
Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) are the gangsters in control of London. However numerous issues are ahead of them. Reggie falls in love with a local girl called Frances (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) and has to balance life with her and the gangster life she disapproves with. Ronnie on the other hand has to deal with his homosexuality and mental health issues, things that aren’t best understood back in the 1960s.
When watching this film, I couldn’t shake an article I read at the time of the release criticizing how the constant media attention of the Krays has glorified them and instead of making them out to be the vicious criminals they were, they are now in the minds of many as cool East End gangsters. And I can’t disagree. The Krays lead to a campaign to get them released, despite the real fear people in the East End had because of their gang. This film does better than that as he shows some of the more infamous incidents they were involved in, but most of the film does show the Krays to be cool gangsters, especially Reggie. The horrific killings and fear are limited to the latter part of the movie and the amount of times we’re asked to feel sympathetic to the Krays is a bit too much. I’m not going to feel sorry for an evil man like Reggie when he is being beaten by the police, no matter how much the film asks me too.
That said, the focus of the film is not on the gang life of the Krays, it’s more about the relationship between Reggie and Frances. As we’re on a roll with the morality thing, let’s criticise that part of the film first. Reggie is nasty to Frances, especially so at the end, but when the film condemns Reggie more for arriving home late than killing other people, the heart is definitely in the wrong place. On a more film level, Frances as a character is not that interesting. She’s sweet, naive and not that much else. Her character is not defined by her action, but by her relationship with Reggie and that’s just dull.
So a lot of the film is told through narration by Frances, which while I’m not a fan of, can be interesting. It can give an insight to the inner workings of a character’s mind in wide simple brushes, as well as bridging between certain events. It’s a shame then the narration here is incredibly numbskullish. Every bit of narration is useless. It just tells us something we could tell through the actual film and visuals. There’s one moment where the director (Brian Helgeland, A Knight’s Tale) has set up a great shot which hints at some good subtext. Then Frances buts in with her narration that tells us all the subtext! Either Helgeland doesn’t have enough faith in his directing for us to get the subtext or he thinks we’re so stupid we need it pointing out for us.
I should move onto the main gimmick that everyone was talking about when anticipating the film’s release, the fact Tom Hardy plays both the Kray twins. It makes sense on paper, they are twins and look like each other so Hardy playing both would be more realistic. I feared it may end up distracting from the story, but Hardy’s performances make both characters distinct. Reggie was the more cool one, while Ronnie was the quiet one with a fierce temper buried underneath the surface. It’s testament to Hardy’s ability as an actor that he can pull off both roles in the same film.
As much as I have beat on this film throughout the review, it isn’t all terrible. When they bother to focus on the horrible crimes the Krays did, it’s unflinching and a scene where Reggie kills someone who failed him and put the gang in danger is genuinely tough to watch. It just needed more of that, to show the true story of how the Krays ruled over the East End with fear yet for some reason, the film believes the love story is more interesting.
Legend is yet another Krays film that thinks of them more as cultural icons than as the ruthless gangsters they were. Maybe one day we will get the Kray film that shows them as the horrible people they were rather than these cool gangsters that everyone wanted to be friends with, though that was true, but this is just another one that carries on this issue that still hurts the victims of the Krays to this day. And that hurts a lot more than any outright dreadful film could.