Two Tom Hardy’s don’t make for a Legend-ary film
On paper, this film seems like a great idea. The Kray twins were London’s most notorious gangsters – two men who both enjoyed being gangsters and what it entailed. Having Tom Hardy, one of cinema’s men of the moment, felt like a logical next step. After Armie Hammer successfully played the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, having Hardy playing the central dual role didn’t seem outlandish. In practice, his performances do work. It’s the rest of the film that really doesn’t. With a wealth of material out there on the Krays, with so much of the truth being better than fiction, it’s frustrating how much Legend misses the mark. Although the film is marked as charting ‘the true story of the rise and fall’ it does no such thing. The ‘true’ bit is questionable after some post-screening research, and ‘the rise and fall’ is false-advertising. The film opens when the Krays are comfortably on the rise (so much so they are under constant police surveillance) and ends just before the start of the fall. The decision to pick these two periods as plot-points seems questionable, as a narrative they are not the most engaging, nor do they provide the audience with enough information to get them engaged. Audience members will be left with countless unanswered questions, no information about how the pair actually achieved this ‘rise’ nor the events or the aftermath of the ‘fall’. It seems ridiculous for a film with a 130 minute running time to have such serious gaps, even more so when it is filled with such needless fluff that make the film feel boring and far longer than the actual running time.
Our entry character into the world of the Krays is Frances Shea (Emily Browning). Frances meets Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) as her brother (Colin Morgan) works for Reggie as a driver. It’s heavy-handedly alluded that Frances has a history of mental illness, she’s ‘fragile’ and just returned home after ‘being away’. Little more information or film time is given to this, which is unfortunate as it could have increased the impact of France’s characterisation. It’s also doubly unfortunate as it could have created a nice parallel with the character plotting of Ronnie Kray (also, Tom Hardy). In the film’s single funniest sequence we witness Reggie visiting his twin, whose prison sentence resulted in being institutionalised and being declared certifiably insane. During this sequence we are informed that whenever Ronnie was uncertain or confused by what people said he would respond ‘interesting’. It’s a quirky touch that could have been utilised for greater effect. Their reunion is intercut with a conversation with a Kray heavy negotiating with a physiatrist for an all-clear for Ronnie. Ronnie is released from the mental hospital, leaving Reggie to start balancing loyalties to the two most important people in his life – Frances and his brother. These relationships are the main focus of the film, not the brother underworld careers. If you were looking for a ‘proper gangster’ (a phrase of Ronnie’s) movie, you’ve come to the wrong movie.
Frances and Reggie date for an unspecified amount of time, then become engaged for an unspecified amount of time and then marry for an unspecified amount of time. Not having a timeline for this period is frustrating, and furthers the sense of the film drifting from one sequence to another. This is a fatal flaw for two reasons. Firstly, the film appears to have strived to place character development over story arc yet there is no stand-out antagonist, rarely a clear motivation for character’s actions, and often no clear link between sequential scenes.. The film tries to restrict itself to how these events impacted the relationship between Frances and Reggie. This leads to the film’s second major fault, which makes Legend such a muddled and convoluted mess. If Frances was our entry point, and the focus is on her viewpoint on events, why are we shown events that she was not at and would never have known about? Reggie and Ronnie attend events and confrontations that would have been concealed from France’s knowledge as, in their eyes, she would not have needed to know what was going on. This flawed decision is empathised with the use of voiceover narration, with Frances narrating the majority of events. The use of voiceover narration in Legend is not used to great effect, it’s cloying and sentimental. The fact she narrates over events that would have been unknown to her confuses whether her viewpoint is truly restricted, as it would have been during the time of the actual events, or has been promoted to omniscient which then undercuts the themes and tone of the film.
Watching Legend makes for an exasperating cinematic experience. The cast do a truly fantastic job with the material they have been provided with – Hardy is suitably magnetic as Reggie though a bit of a caricature as Ronnie, Browning gives her best performance to date and Taron Egerton steals every scene as Teddy Smith – but that material is banal and structurally incoherent. Disappointing.