Legend (2015) – Film Review

Recognised as some of the most notorious gangsters in British history, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Kray and Reginald ‘Reggie’ Kray were identical twin brothers and the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in the East End of London during the 1960s. With the help of their gang, known as The Firm, the Krays were involved in numerous murders, armed robberies, protection rackets, arsons and assaults. And, in 1965, as West End nightclub owners, the Krays even mingled with politicians and prominent entertainers, subsequently becoming ’60s icons themselves before both brothers were ultimately arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. Therefore, even if the twin crimelords were convicted murderers, their rise to power was ripe for a cinematic interpretation, and 2015’s Legend more than succeeds in converting the brothers’ riotous downfall into an enthralling biopic, thanks largely to Tom Hardy’s mesmerising dual performance.

Plot Summary: Identical twins, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Kray and Reginald ‘Reggie’ Kray have risen through the ranks of the criminal underworld in 1960s London, with Ronnie advancing the family business through violence and intimidation, while Reggie struggles to go legitimate with his girlfriend, Frances Shea. But, with Detective Superintendent Leonard Read hot on their heels, Ronnie’s unpredictable tendencies along with the slow disintegration of Reggie’s relationship, threaten to bring the brothers’ criminal empire tumbling to the ground…

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (PaybackA Knight’s TaleMan on Fire), Legend is partially an adaptation of the true-crime book; The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Krays Twins by John Pearson. I say ‘partly’ as the film (unlike the book) begins well into the Kray’s criminal career, steering clear of the twins’ East End childhood, their early days as boxers or their time spent behind bars during National Service. Even the pair’s beloved mother, Violet Lee Kray, is barely glimpsed outside of one or two scenes, seemingly unaware of her boys’ violent actions. And whilst this could be seen as a positive, as Legend doesn’t waste any of its runtime on frivolous flashbacks to the twins’ adolescence, it could also be seen as a negative, as I feel that witnessing the Kray’s childhood would’ve provided a clear view of their personalities before their rampant path of butchery began.

Taking on dual roles for the film, Tom Hardy had thirty-five filming days in which he had to portray both brothers, meaning Hardy would have to film scenes as the twin who had the most dialogue first, then return to hair and make-up to be transformed into the opposing twin. Originally, Hardy was only offered the role of Reggie, but Brian Helgeland was persuaded to let Hardy tackle the role of Ronnie, as well. I’d say this was for the best, as Tom Hardy taking on both roles not only adheres to the idea of the Krays being identical twins, but truly allows him to display his full acting range, continually upstaging himself as he switches from brother to brother on a dime. The rest of the cast, including Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Anderson, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston, is also marvellous in their supporting roles, whether they are in pursuit or service of the Krays.

Exceedingly lavish in its presentation, Legend often possesses the tone of an American gangster epic like Goodfellas and Casino, despite being so distinctly British, contrasting its bloodletting and depravity with elegant shots from cinematographer Dick Pope, in addition to plenty of wonderful set-dressing as the film was shot almost entirely on location, with very few sets used. The camerawork also allows for a few long takes, with Reggie and Frances’ first evening out together being one continuous five-minute and forty-second shot.

When it comes to the original score by Carter Burwell, tracks such as LegendElegy for Frances and Your Race is Run serve their purpose effectively as part of the narrative. The main focus of Legend‘s soundtrack, however, is the film’s long list of recognisable songs, which further help cement the story within the 1960s time period. And whoever compiled this soundtrack clearly has a great deal of expertise in that area, not only in selecting songs that one would hope to hear from a film set in the swinging sixties, like Green Onions and Cissy Strut, but also in selecting long-forgotten gems.

From costumes to vehicles to props, the production design throughout Legend is again nothing short of exceptional. To the extent that even Ronnie and Reggie’s tailored suits are almost indistinguishable from the suits the twins wore in real life. Additionally, the utilisation of digital compositing and body doubles for whenever two versions of Tom Hardy are required on-screen at one time rarely has a faulty moment, auspiciously tricking the audience at multiple points.

In conclusion, while most will agree that any glorification of real-world criminals is questionable, with Legend often having a mythologist and, at times, even romanticised approach to its low-life protagonists, the film is a well-crafted biopic, nonetheless. Through its retro style, brilliant production design and copious comedic moments, Legend is a solid crime-drama even in spite of its occasionally overblown scenes or on-the-nose song choices, such as Chapel of Love for Reggie and Frances’ wedding. But, the main reason to see Legend is unquestionably the spectacular dual performance from Tom Hardy, who confidently steals every scene he appears in. Rating: 7/10.

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