Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Christopher Eccleston
Age Rating: R/15
Running Time: 131 minutes
This September Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MYSTIC RIVER) brings an American gangster style to tell a British gangster story which is engrained in London’s history.
Narrated by Emily Browning as Reggie Kray’s wife Frances, along with an outstanding double performance from Tom Hardy, LEGEND tells the story of notorious twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray, London’s most infamous gangsters of the twentieth century. Set in the Swinging Sixties, the film follows their rise to ruling the city, and we witness how a brotherly bond which was so powerful could be reduced to nothing more than paranoia, power-struggles and sheer brutality because of one woman’s compassion and love for one of them.
Tom Hardy once again shows us how to commit to playing a character. Acting as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, pretty much 90% of this film is Tom Hardy, and that is not a bad thing. He puts in such a great performance, similar to the likes of BRONSON, but by playing two characters, he allows himself to portray a vast mixture of emotions throughout. We see a brutal Kray, a compassionate and loving Kray, a drunken Kray, an upset Kray, a schizophrenic Kray and an outright bad-ass Kray.
The rest of the cast are impressive in their roles, with Emily Browning standing out in particular. She brings out a strong side to Frances which we have not seen in previous Krays material. Before now their mother has always been portrayed as the most influential individual in their lives, but LEGEND goes on to show how integral she was to their downfall.
As a big fan of Peter Medak’s 1990s film ‘THE KRAYS’, when I first saw that Tom Hardy was playing both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in a new adaptation, I was a bit startled and unconvinced. However, then I soon remembered “It’s Tom Hardy! It can only be great!”, and the trailer persuaded me of this. The film is good I admit, but I do not put it down as a great! Once again, without Tom Hardy’s performance, there is not much that I could scream about. There are things that LEGEND does better than THE KRAYS admittedly, but on the flipside there are factors such as the influence of their overly-protective mother, which are sorely missed. The fact of the matter is, this film is a glamorous, American gangster style film based on a British gangster legend (pardon the pun), and what THE KRAYS got so right was the seedy and gritty feel of London’s East End in the 1960s, and I can’t help but think LEGEND appears to glorify the brutality of these characters, whereas THE KRAYS literally makes you hate them and their mother.
However, from hearing Brian Helgeland speak in a press conference on Thursday 3rd September, I believe that this is what he wanted. I think that Helgeland believes in a different side to these notorious brothers; a vulnerable one, so if anything he does explore the personalities of Ronnie and Reggie a lot more than Peter Medak did, and treats them more as deranged human beings than disgusting animals. Which interpretation is correct, we will never know, but my personal perception leans more towards Peter Medak’s approach.
As a stand-alone film, LEGEND is outrageous, glamorous, and addictive and everything else you expect from an American gangster film, but it still has the British nostalgia and brilliance of Tom Hardy to remind you that it is a sadistic and complex tale about perhaps Britain’s most notorious brothers to ever grace the streets of London. It’s beautifully and brilliantly put together, and if I did not have a film to compare it to it would probably be receiving sky high ratings. However, I cannot agree with the different approach this film takes to depicting The Krays. Unfortunately the brilliance of Tom Hardy does allow you to almost like and root for the brothers at points, which I cannot agree with, and I dislike how little a part their mother has in this picture. Helgeland has done a brilliant job here and shown that an American director can put together a credible British gangster flick, but unfortunately there is still a lot missing from this picture for me to class it as one of the great gangster films out there.
“Power. Fear. Family.”
Recommendation: A good american take on the legend that is The Krays! Personally not as good as Peter Medak’s film but worth a watch at the cinema for Tom Hardy’s performance alone! Meerkat Movies or Showcase Insider Sundays/Mondays/Tuesdays though!
Originally written for Screen Relish and adapted for personal use only. Thanks to them for the opportunity to write this piece.