Legend (2015) Review

The Kray twins return to the big screen.

“We’re supposed to be gangsters!”

Ronnie Kray, Legend

London in the 1960s, a time for economic growth and modernisation. The war had passed and high society was on the rise. This is the world Ronald and Reginald Kray set out to conquer.

Legend starts at a point where Ronnie and Reggie were small time, the Krays run rackets, offering protection to small business around east end London for a cut of the profits, and would eventually make a move to take the whole of London as their own.

One of the biggest problems with the film is that 99% of the cast are just cartoonish stereotypes of East End London gangsters, which comes off as insincere or disingenuous, especially when you’re documenting the actual rise, corrosive influence and fall of Britain’s most feared and respected gangsters. They are all very cockney and very fond of the much-loved C word and that is about as deep as it gets sadly. Luckily Tom Hardy is the exception here.

My biggest worry going into the film was that it was going to suffer from what I like to call “the Nutty Professor syndrome”; when an actor is playing multiple roles on screen and you spend maybe too much time just picturing the actor under all the makeup and looking for the digital cuts and camera trickery.

Thank god this doesn’t apply to Tom Hardy’s scenes, he shines as both Ronnie and Reggie. Tom does enough to separate Ronnie and Reggie Kray, so much so that you forget you are watching the same person, he disappears into both roles entirely. When the two of them are on screen together I never once thought of them as both Tom Hardy. From the cockney way Reggie speaks and the way he holds himself to the stockier looking, set jawed and more loquacious Ronnie they could be two completely different people. Which they were.

Tom Hardy is beside himself in this scene

Tom Hardy is beside himself in this scene

Reggie Kray is the more business orientated and clear headed of the two brothers. Any deals to be done, Reggie handles them. He is also the twin we are asked to empathise and identify with as the film revolves around him.

Ronnie Kray brings the humour to the film, with his odd views and one liners, he steals most of the scenes he is in, coming across as both toddler-like in his world view and dangerous since you can never tell whether he means the things he says or if he says them to provoke a reaction so he can spring in to sadistic action.

The story of the Krays is incredibly interesting, from their rise to power in a relatively short amount of time and the mental health issues that Ronnie faced, to the criminal empire they ran from inside prison on their life sentences, these elements could make for a fascinating stranger-than-fiction tale.

“Legend”, for some baffling reason chooses not to look at these aspects and instead focuses on the relationship between Reggie and Frances Shea (played by Emily Browning) and almost completely glosses over any of the nitty gritty details.

Not that the relationship between the two was uninteresting, Frances, or “Frankie”, and Reggie had a tumultuous relationship, with the two of them at odds with how they wanted to live their lives. Frances comes from a lower class family when she meets Reggie who shows her a glamorous lifestyle and offers everything she could ever dream of. Except she isn’t all too keen on the means by which Reggie makes his living.

Legend 5

Reggie is torn between a life with the woman he loves and the joint criminal venture with the brother he has been with since before they were born. All the while, Ronnie is watching as his twin is being pulled away from him, all he knows is violence and extortion and losing Reggie would leave him at a loss. Unfortunately, Legend doesn’t do anywhere near enough to make this either a focal point or an interesting subplot, instead, we just watch as spectators who have no empathy for any of the characters.

I lost count the amount of times somebody tried to remind the audience that the Krays were gangsters. The characters quite literally stated that they were gangsters every couple of scenes, “we are gangsters”, “you’re just gangsters”, “we’re supposed to be gangsters” and it was all very bizarre and unnatural to have these sort of lines spouted over and over again throughout the film.

I think the main problem with the film is that it tries to stick to the truth as much as possible, which isn’t a criticism often made of an adaptation. Not enough is changed or events not arranged in an order that makes sense for a film so, instead of a three act structure, we get a series of incidents happening one after the other with no pay off. Christopher Eccleston plays detective Nipper Read, the man who eventually brought down the Krays. You would be forgiven for forgetting he was in the film at all. He turns up at a handful of points in the film with little backstory and no plot development. The same can be said of David Thewlis as the krays business partner and friend Leslie Payne.

The thing that highlights the fact-over-fiction approach to the film is the introduction of the character Angelo Bruno (Chazz Palminteri), the real-life Philadelphia-based mobster who went into business with the Kray Twins. It’s true that he had some dealings with the Krays, but not that much happened. The emphasis that the film puts on the few scenes where the three are in a room together is unnecessary and just seems like more filler in an already filler heavy film.

Tom Hardy is a good reason to watch the movie, in fact he makes up the two best reasons to watch the movie. But at just over two hours long I found the film to become tedious, boring and found myself wondering just what is the point.

Notice the sneaky little 2 star review hidden in plain sight

Notice the sneaky little 2 star review hidden in plain sight

Genre: Biopic / Crime / Thriller

Age Rating: 18

Runtime: 131 Mins

Film Distributor: Universal Pictures

So what do you think? Have a think and let us know in the comments section below.

– Dan P



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