Film Review: Legend

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law but reputation carries more weight and it’s fair to say that the Kray twins have some reputation. The stories of the life they lead, the violence they commanded and the fear they instilled still as powerful, and as shocking, today as it was in the 1960s. They may no longer be alive, they may no longer walk the streets, but still there is that little tinge of fear inside you when you talk about them. Fear that saying something out of turn may still cause a ripple and a repercussion.

I am not fascinated by the brothers, but I know their story. I know the outline plot to real life events that surrounded them and so, when I saw Tom Hardy (and Tom Hardy) bringing them back to life I was instantly hooked. As twins their characters really were the polar opposite, the virtual split of a single entity. One good, one mad but together very, very bad. And it appeared that Brian Helgeland’s latest film Legend was about to bring their individual parts, clearly and violently, back to life.

Ronnie, Reggie & Frances Kray - Legend

Having now seen the film, the problem is it’s an absolute mess. It almost feels like it doesn’t know what exactly it wants to be, or more important what it wants to say or how to say it. The story is told through the narration of Frances Shea, Reggie’s wife, played by Emily Browning and yet, too often it would swing off into impossible avenues or descriptions that she can’t possibly have known, seen or been party too. It just muddles everything up because I was never sure if it was meant to be a character piece on the brothers (told through loving eyes), a revelation of their violence, their business or a story of biographical events? It just takes too many different angles on the same story to make you feel like there is a coherent direction to it’s plot.

Browning plays Frances Shea well enough but appears on screen more in passing than as a character you really invest in. While Tom Hardy, playing both brothers, is convincing and enjoyable as the psychopathic Ronnie but a little bit too clean and nice as Reggie. Ronnie certainly comes across as the more interesting character, and more often than not, when Browning and Hardy are together as Frances and Reggie it looked more like a pair of loved up tourists, romantically walking the streets of London than their infamous ruler.

Tom Hardy As Reggie Kray - Legend

Visually the film is all over the place as well. The Kray’s ruled London in the 1960s and yet you’d be hard pushed to pick that decade out of the set design. Too often the East End felt like it had been plucked straight from the Victorian era while the rest of the capital could easily pass for the 1970s or even the 1980s. I half expected to see a horse and cart click past. Nothing feels alive enough. The freedom, the release, the explosion of colour just completely missing. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack aids this broken tone. It feels just as lifeless and muted. The 1960s were an explosion of rock and roll and free spirit tunes and they’re never there. The occasional lyric triggered a memory of a song, but it never feels fully formed.

It felt like a two-dimensional world, that looks like nothing more than a movie set.

Going back to the cast, when you look at the supporting players it became a game of “guess who?” of well known faces. So much so, that it actually became off putting as time and again a well known face would appear and you’d waste time trying to remember their name and double check it is them. Paul Bettany, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Kevin McNally and more I still can’t remember (the Lord and the Psychiatrist). I need to make special mention of Christopher Eccleston though who plays Nipper Read, the police offer on a personal mission to “take down” the Kray’s. He truly is wooden and looks totally uncomfortable in the part. It truly is “back straight, should back, head up and do not move”, so much so, that I almost wonder if they’d stuck a broom down his back to hold him in position!

Tom Hardy As Ronnie Kray - Legend

The most annoying element lacking in Legend is the violence. It’s just not violent enough. It has an 18 rating but I’d say that’s hard on it. It’s too pastel and wordy, it almost feels like  it wants you to empathise with the brothers, to make you feel they were normal people and this was just something they were messed up in. I never felt scared, everything seems toned down. Weak and simplified and somehow fraudulent. I wanted the true horrors and the indescribable lengths the Kray’s were prepared to go to stay in charge shown honestly, and fully. Not this half hearted hint subtitled “they are real people too”. It does, at one moment, reveal this true darker tone. One scene between Reggie and Frances momentarily getting inside you and showing just how nasty this world was, but it does so off screen. It doesn’t have the guts to show it to your face and it annoyed me, because in that instant the film revealed that it was capable of so much more, yet was frightened to do so.

Legend is the most misleading title possible. You cannot argue that the Kray twin’s created a legend in real life, but this movie doesn’t come close. It neither shows, or implies, anything and they come across as two simple criminals who happen to be related. Their story is diluted and confused and while interesting enough to hold my attention and never leave me bored, I never bought into it either. They could have been anybody. Legend feels like a movie made by somebody who heard a few whispers rather than experienced the reality and created a film that felt more like it was bringing a knife to a gun fight.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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