Legend has recently made it’s way onto DVD, so having missed it at the cinema I thought I’d pick it up and give it a go.
I must admit, I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to movies set in 60s swinging London. I love Austin Powers (Yeah baby!), and The Beatles’ films like Yellow Submarine, and while the film does a marvelous job of immersing you in the time period, Austin Powers this is not.
Legend does really does go to town with the 60s setting. I could feel that special buzz the time period evokes. The excitement of a city emerging from the dour and oppressive 50s shines through. The now retro designs of their surroundings, the flowery wallpaper and the ladies dresses all combine in the perfect way to make you feel a heavy nostalgia for the time period (even if, like me, you were never there).
We meet our protagonists wearing black suits and ties, setting the tone for the film, like the Krays themselves, this is serious business. The brutality of the brothers shines through with scenes including Reggie beating a rival gang with knuckle dusters while Ronnie beats them with a hammer to the head, where betrayers and rivals are killed with barely a moment’s notice. This is not something for the easily offended or the faint hearted.
The performances are mostly on par, with some great appearances from the likes of David Thewlis as the detective always on the tail of the brothers, trying to catch them in the act and Taron Egerton as one of the lower down lackeys of the gang. Tom Hardy does a great job of bringing not one but two of the nation’s most notorious gangsters to life. Though they were identical twins, they were very different (even physically as well as in personality) and Hardy is able to provide a distinction between the two, which limits the confusion between which twin is which, even with the similar names.
Ronnie had some serious mental health issues which is addressed early on as we are told by the Narrator (who is also Reggie’s wife) about how he was institutionalised at one point and needed constant medication to stabilise his moods. Ronnie’s homosexuality it dealt with in a mature way and gives us a glimps of his world of wild sex parties (and there’s some great tips on how to blackmail members of parliament too). However I felt that Hardy could have gone a bit further with his portrayal of Romnie, I never really felt that I got to know him beyond that he got angry, was a terrible businessman and had kinky parties. Something similar could be said for Reggie we never really know what makes him tick, or why he’s interested in becoming London’s biggest gangster, why is it important to him? Is it to prove a point? Get more money? Just to be a big man? Or just because he likes his brother and that’s what he wants to do? I don’t know, because it’s never really addressed. Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning) seems a little two dimensional at times as well. The relationship gets far less screen time than it should have done, I really wanted the story to get into what was happening between the two characters .
I think this is my main problem with the film. It tries to tell so many different aspects of the Krays, that you only get a very shallow view of their world. Like the relationship between Reggie and Frances I don’t feel that legend was able to portray the relationship between Ronnie and Reggie as much as I would have liked. Perhaps it had something to do with Hardy playing both roles, sometimes you just need someone else there to react to and bounce off of. With the absence of a deep, clear story line I always felt like an outsider looking onto their world rather than feeling inside it. When you look back at some of the greatest gangster films like Goodfellas there is a strong main character who takes us through their journey from starting out to gaining notoriety and fame in their chosen profession, there’s a feeling of being there, being part of the action. That’s what makes those films so iconic, so great. You don’t get that with Legend. It’s narrated by Reggie’s wife which puts a certain distance between the audience and the two main characters. By trying to tell so much about what the Krays did it tells us very little about who they were, which for me, is the most interesting part of being a gangster, the human aspect. An aspect I found sadly lacking.
If you’re looking for a romp around 60s swinging London, with added violence and a twisted sense of morality then you’ve probably found something you’ll enjoy for a Saturday night at home with a take away. If you like deep characters and compelling story lines, then perhaps you’d be better sticking with a classic American gangster flick.