Today we’re looking at the biographical crime thriller, Legend (2015). What did it do well? Read on to find out!
The true story of London’s most notorious gangsters, twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray. As the brothers rise through the criminal underworld, Ronnie advances the family business with violence and intimidation while Reggie struggles to go legitimate for local girl Frances Shea. In and out of prison, Ronnie’s unpredictable tendencies and the slow disintegration of Reggie’s marriage threaten to bring the brothers’ empire tumbling to the ground.
Legend is adapted from John Pearson book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins.
The film adaption is drenched in romance of the 60s London criminal underworld. As with most anti-hero stories there’s a certain amount of glorification of the subject matter that made films like Goodfellas, Casino and Bronson such successes.
And in-keeping with that theme there is excessive glorification of criminality, a long-standing tradition in film. The Krays are presented as folk heroes, who look after their own people and get one over on Johnny Law and the government.
Obviously liberties are taken, (Reggie physically assaulting Frances for instance and the timing of her later suicide) but the adaption is compelling nonetheless.
This isn’t the first big screen adaption of the Krays story – The Krays (1990) is overall a better film, some might say it’s pure “Gold”.
Ronnie Kray is portrayed as the calculating, cold and mentally unhinged brother. Reggie Kray is shown to be a hard-as-nails enforcer, ruthless but stoic. We pick up the story as the twins are established locally, firmly in power over their expanding patch, respected, feared and within the sights of the law.
Tom Hardy mumbles through much of his delivery, but for the most part does an excellent job juggling the inflections of speech between the roles. The film is held together by this dual performance which is a masterclass in itself.
The film seems to have been built from this premise up and makes for sturdy foundations.
It’s great to see Christopher Eccleston on screen playing the good/bad guy. An actor who lends legitimacy to projects he is involved in. The same can also be said for David Thewlis.
Emily Browning does the leg work of the stereotypical and long-suffering “gangsters wife” in the form of Frances Shea and does an excellent job on all fronts, portraying mainly love and frustration.
The sequences in Legend are stylishly filmed with lots of contrast-rich framing and symmetry. The sets and costumes are dripping with nostalgia and beautifully presented.
There are elements of tongue-in-cheek humour and darkness throughout which nicely contrasts the savagery in many scenes and are reminiscent of Hardy‘s Bronson.
The soundtrack is notably stylish, straight out of a Guy Ritchie playlist, however this darkens in tone and sway as the film progresses, becoming more cinematic.
The fight scene in the bar is quite reminiscent of Goodfellas, which seemed to be the theme of the film – an American telling of a very British story.
Legend is vicious and violent in all the right places. This film is worth the cost of entry to see an Englishman pour a perfect pint of Guinness during a pub brawl.
Legend explores themes of relationships, family, mental health and ruthless sadists utilising the criminal underworld as a gritty, sometimes admittedly glamorous backdrop.
For me, Legend is around half an hour too long to tell this story. A lot of the runtime is spent posturing and overstyling where it’s simply not necessary. At 2 hrs 11m the pace begins to drag in the final half hour, punctuated by a tense violent finale.
It was a fun romp with the criminal underworld nonetheless and an impressive display of Hardy’s acting ability.