Synopsis: Suave, charming and volatile, Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) and his unstable twin brother Ronnie start to leave their mark on the London underworld in the 1960s. Using violence to get what they want, the siblings orchestrate robberies and murders while running nightclubs and protection rackets. With police Detective Leonard “Nipper” Read hot on their heels, the brothers continue their rapid rise to power and achieve tabloid notoriety.
Release Date: November 20, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Legend seeks to tell the tale of Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy in dual roles), two East End London gangsters with a set of chips on their respective shoulders. Twin brothers with seemingly noble intentions despite criminal aspirations, the Krays are each a unique brand of gangster. Ronnie is a schizophrenic homosexual and prone to random bouts of violence or aggressive behavior; while Reggie is the more even keel brother, who wants nothing more than to control London through intimidation and a dapper look. Along their rise to power in the East End and beyond, the Krays remain loyal, but eventually life gets in the way. Reggie meets Frances (Emily Browning) and the two quickly become infatuated with each other, while Ronnie struggles to keep his mental imbalances in check, especially in the face of so many opportunities to let them out.
As a portrait of London gangsters in the ’50s and ’60s, Legend has everything that a viewer could want. It’s pointedly violent, rife with incoherent accents, and features the type of dreary cinematography that fits perfectly with the setting. The characters also all feel like parts of a larger whole – essential elements in a crime drama – instead of moving pieces on a chessboard. Frances, in particular, helps contextualize the story in terms of the toll the Kray’s business takes on a human level, but she’s also not integral to the story either. It’s a strange thing, having Browning’s character narrate the movie as a minor player, and it only speaks to the confusing nature of Legend‘s aims. It’s not really about one facet of the Kray’s lives, and as a result it feels aimless.
Truthfully, the only reason to see Legend is for Tom Hardy, who pulls double duty as the Kray brothers. The story is fascinating enough, but it lacks a clear narrative. Each plot, be it Reggie’s relationship with Frances, Ronnie’s struggles with his mental disability, or the Kray’s growing empire, feels underserved. There’s no clear focus, and as a result Legend becomes less a learning experience and more a chance to watch Tom Hardy flex his acting muscle. Granted, that’s not a bad way to spend a few hours, but Hardy’s performances deserve a better script.
Legend proves that Tom Hardy is as ambitious an actor as there is working today. His ability to portray two different but surprisingly similar twin brothers is a feat in itself, and is fascinating to watch on screen. But at a certain point it becomes clear that Legend is a performance-driven piece more than it is a compelling biopic. And by the end, it doesn’t feel like much is learned about the Krays, or that the story was worth telling. Without Tom Hardy at its center, Legend might have been a completely forgettable biopic. But as it stands, fans of the high profile British actor will come away mostly satisfied.
Any movie where the lead actor takes on two roles is sure to have its appeals, but Legend doesn’t play the duality as a gimmick. Tom Hardy gives as much to the role of Reggie as he does Ronnie, and neither feels underserved by the actor. Reggie might be more the “star” of the film, but that’s a byproduct of Frances’ narration, not Hardy’s deficiencies as an actor. He delivers two standout performances and deserves all the praise and recognition that’s surely coming his way.
As far as the remaining cast, each bit player serves their role suitably, fleshing out the various gangster archetypes. No one in particular stands out, mind you, but that’s less an indictment of the acting and more a criticism of the script. This is a two-character show, with a little bit of Frances sprinkled throughout. Luckily, Emily Browning is well equipped to act against a duo of Hardy’s, and handles the task with aplomb. Her character might be left adrift by a story that never truly establishes her place, but that’s no fault of Browning’s. She, like Hardy, is great.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Brian Helgeland
- Screenwriter(s): Brian Helgeland
- Cast: Tom Hardy (Ronald Kray/Reggie Kray)Christopher Eccleston (Nipper Read) Emily Browning (Frances Shea)
- Cinematographer: Dick Pope
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Carter Burwell
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA