Tom Hardy tackles London’s most notorious twin gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray, in Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s Legend. Based on John Pearson’s book, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, the film also stars Pompeii‘s Emily Browning, David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston.
Legend follows the rise and fall of the notorious 60s gangsters, the Kray Twins (Hardy), as they look to build their money-spinning London empire. Chased by frustrated bobby, Nipper Read (Eccleston), the Kray’s – and with the help of their minions, including the dicey Leslie Payne (Thewlis) – they scam, intimidate and kick the bejesus out of their unfortunate competitors to rule the East End.
Narrated by Browning’s Frances – the wife of Reggie – this tale of 60s East End gangsterism is held afloat by Hardy’s powerhouse two-for-the-price-of one performance. Reggie – tanned, slick-haired and straight-faced – is the brains behind the operation, yet it’s Ronnie – the violent schizophrenic – who allows Hardy to really let rip. Two compelling, yet contrasting roles, the Dark Knight Rises star – and a man of many accents – goes full-on-cockney and seemingly has a hell of a lot of fun doing so.
Yet beyond the Hardy Show lies a film that feels more high budget Eastenders than a successfully orchestrated gangster-inspired spectacle. Market stalls, old school motors and cobbled streets – Helgeland’s work feels beautifully 60s-ish, but there’s an ever-growing sense that Legend‘s pretty looking style outweighs its often threadbare substance.
Too lackadaisical to be a truly workable character study and certainly not gritty enough to be a full-on mob flick; other than the occasionally far-too-sporadic eye-catching violent set piece (in true East End fashion, taking place in a pub), interesting story strands feel undercooked and underdeveloped. The Kray’s relationship with American mobsters – a negotiation to make London the “Las Vegas of Europe” – felt particularly cast aside, introduced as fast as it’s ignored and brought back, bemusingly – and rather pointlessly – in the film’s final moments, whilst Eccleston’s Read – who at first glance seemed set to be a constant thorn in the Kray’s side – peeters out into the film’s ever-growing wilderness until the very end.
It certainly flatters to deceive, but despite Legend‘s faults, its leading man’s double performance is certainly enough to keep you engaged. The brothers’ loyalty to one another – through thick and thin – is the most successful constant throughout. Hardy aside, it is a shame that the film – in love, work and gangster action – can’t reach the same engrossing heights.