This black comedy thriller follows the exploits of the Kray Twins, notorious London gangsters during the 1960s. It feels quite long, but Tom Hardy has a dynamite performance as both twins.
Ronald and Reginald Kray are living the comfortable life as gangsters on London’s east side, they are seemingly impervious to the police while running clubs and battling with rival gangs. But when Reginald Kray meets a young girl, his relationship with his psychotic brother Ronald becomes incredibly tense, risking to break their lives, and everything they’ve built, apart forever.
The Krays were notorious in their day so watching Legend can feel difficult; it does its best to glamourise their lifestyle and make the audience feel sympathy for them as characters. Reginald Kray is portrayed as a decent man in an indecent world, while his brother (though truly psychotic) is described by Reginald at one point as having “a heart of gold”. It is a black comedy at its heart, its dialogue is harsh and aggressive with English gangland humour mixing with bursts of bloody aggression.
I just described to you Reginald and Ronald as two different people. Which they are. Only in Legend the twins are both played by Tom Hardy. This is surely the meat of the experience; whether you approve of the subject matter or not, Hardy is exceptional here as both twins through clever use of camerawork, body-doubles, split-screen and surely some CG work. It isn’t what I would call a gimmick either; Hardy really does become both characters superbly well, similar and yet extremely different with Ronald’s dour, dead-eyed simplicity and occasional spouting of prose, to Reginald’s well-rounded gangster and part-time romantic. Both are very complex characters, and Hardy delivers both and interacts with himself so well that you believe there are two of him!
The heart of the film, outside of its darkness, is Reginald’s lover Frances (played by Emily Browning) who delivers occasional narration and is the audience surrogate as an innocent quickly trapped in this world. But she does bring out the best, and worst, in the Krays, especially with Ron and as a result she is in the centre of a lot of the film’s best scenes.
The film’s secondary characters are also very well defined, making the 1960’s British gangland feel all the more richer.
I will say against the film is that it feels slightly too long. Finishing at 130 minutes, it could have been just two hours or even less; the film takes its time getting to the point, padding the runtime with a lot of familiar scenes that borderline repetition. Even with Hardy’s double performance carrying through these scenes, it ultimately feels drawn out. It is also something of a classic story: a man battling between his loyalty to a girl or his brother.
I would definitely recommend it for Tom Hardy’s performances alone, this is some exceptional work from him and elevates it far above what would have been a well styled but average film.
Additional Marshmallows: An unusual fact, but when Legend received a two star rating from The Guardian newspaper, instead of shying away from this the film’s PR department put the rating front and centre on one of the posters, but neatly obscured: