London gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray and the notoriety associated with them became ingrained into British culture following their criminal activities in the nineteen-sixties, and up to now their most notable film incarnation was in 1990 when Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp took on the roles of the vicious twins. Putting them on the big screen once again is award-winning screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland, with Tom Hardy starring as not just one, but both of the Kray twins in an incredible double performance. When Reggie finds love with sweet and innocent Frances (Emily Browning) just as Ronnie is released from prison, everything appears to be going their way. However, with a rival gang fronted by Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany) up against them in a battle for power and Detective Nipper Reid (Christopher Eccleston) tracking their every move, how long can they stay on top?
Telling a familiar, true story can be a challenging, restricting task and while Helgeland’s effort has style and swagger in abundance, it falls foul to a mediocre script and tonally imbalanced narrative. Choosing to miss out the brothers boxing background for the most part and barely touching upon their family dynamics, there is a clear lack of focus or angle in the storytelling, towing the line between relationship drama and a straight up mobster movie. It tries desperately to get the Guy Ritchie formula in combining brutal violence with dark humour, but falls short of its own high ambitions. Accomplished cinematographer Dick Pope works his magic in creating a glossy, nostalgic yet authentic atmosphere but many of the visually interesting scenes are let down by a paint-by-numbers soundtrack that wants to hold the viewers hand as we are led through the typical highs and lows of living dangerously.
As two part acting performances go, Tom Hardy’s duel portrayal is as good as I’ve ever seen. After the first couple of scenes, you’d be forgiven for forgetting altogether that he is both as he plays them so differently from each other. Admittedly, it appears there are personality embellishments and at times they appear caricature-like in their mannerisms, but his screen presence and sheer talent goes a long way to saving the film from complete disaster. Emily Browning impresses as well as Frances, given the fact that her character arc is less of an arc and more of a spike followed by a sharp decline. Her long-suffering wife voiceover is riddled with cliché, as if it was plucked out of a dodgy Martina Cole novel, but despite this she brings charm and glamour to the role. Stand outs among an underdeveloped supporting cast are rising stars Taron Egerton and Charley Palmer Rothwell who form Ronnie’s fearsome entourage. Their characters and the complicated friendship they had with their complex master could have been a fascinating avenue for the film to explore further but sadly this was overlooked, and Ronnie’s key responsibility in this retelling was to bring psychotic comedy to proceedings.
For viewers who know little about the ‘legend’ of Ronnie and Reggie, this sophisticated retelling is both informative and entertaining but fails to delve into grittier ground, and in doing so glorifies the twins and makes allowances for their inexcusable actions. Helgeland’s piece is a celebration of their ill repute which would be fine if it wasn’t all true. As a genre film, it is slick yet stereotypical, but in its favour boasts two towering tour-de-force turns from Tom Hardy. ‘Legend’ offers a solid platform to showcase one of, if not the best, actor in the industry. Like Reggie’s trademark put down, his performance will lure you in with an inviting smile and a cigarette before knocking you for six.