An extraordinary double performance from Tom Hardy as both Kray twins dominates Brian Helgeland’s Legend, a slick, entertaining but flawed gangster pic.
Peter Medak’s 1990 film The Krays centred on the twins relationship with their mother, but this time the focus is on Frances (Emily Browning), who ultimately married Reggie. Her narration of their rise and fall is a bit forced at times, but it does provide the gel for a compelling if baggy piece of work. In contrast to Medak’s film, this is a shinier, more glamorous affair, with lots of dark humour amid the obligatory strong language and even stronger violence.
In spite of Legend’s undoubted merits, and in spite of a superficial crime-doesn’t-pay morality, something about the lurid fascination with the Kray twins has always bothered me, to the point that I feel with both this and Medak’s film can’t entirely escape the nagging sense that the swinging sixties London gangsters are being celebrated as much as reviled. One occasionally feels like a spectator watching Christians being fed to lions. Of course, western culture always celebrates its anti-heroes, even Jack the Ripper. Why do we find these vicious loonies so compelling?
Legend looks great but the film is definitely too long. Support performances from the likes of David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston and Paul Bettany are another asset, but in the end it is unquestionably Hardy who dominates. One simply thinks of him as two separate, entirely convincing individuals – the charming, roguish though morally bankrupt Reggie versus the Ronnie’s schizophrenic, psychotic, yet occasionally sensitive Ronnie. It’s a tour-de-force that represents the best portrayal of twins this side of Dead Ringers and could well end up Oscar nominated next year.
In short, there are ultimately two reasons to see Legend: Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy.