Directed by Brian Helgeland
Starring Tom Hardy, Taron Egerton, Emily Browning, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, Christopher Eccleston, David Thewlis and Paul Anderson
In UK Cinemas September 9th, 2015

by Richard Hamer

From the start, it’s difficult to know exactly what film Legend wants to be. Ostensibly a biopic of notorious 60’s gangsters the Kray twins, it teeters indecisively on the border between serious drama and glossy dark comedy, never really making a decision across the whole of its two hour run.

The biggest indicator of this comes in the decision to cast Tom Hardy as both Ronald and Reginald Kray, using body doubles and computer effects to create an eye-catching, amusing, but potentially highly distracting illusion.

Thankfully, It’s remarkable how quickly you forget about it. For a film so heavily marketed on this gimmick, it’s pleasing how little the final product draws attention to it. Ronnie and Reggie are rarely on-screen at the same time in the same shot, and when they are – bar a few stand-out scenes – they don’t directly interact in a way that invites scrutiny.

Legend doesn’t really want you spending your time fixating on which Tom Hardy is the ‘real one’ at any given moment, and by being smart enough to keep it subtle, you’re happy to oblige.

This leaves you free to actually focus on Hardy’s performances, and what memorable ones they are: He thoroughly owns both roles, not just in personality but in physicality: voice, facial expressions, gait – all transformed. His confident, screen-filling performances dominate every scene, despite fine support from the likes of Emily Browning, David Thewlis and the sadly underused Christopher Eccleston.

As Reggie, we keenly explore the myth of the charming, gentleman criminal: ‘family’ is everything to him in business, but in marriage we see an abusive, possessive drunk. It’s Hardy’s masterful portrayal of the hypocrisy that lies beneath the gossamer thin veneer of the cheeky, East End rogue that makes his performance so powerful.

It’s when Hardy is in Ronnie-mode that things become slightly more troublesome, however, taking us back to the single biggest criticism we have of this movie:

Legend is very funny, and that might not be OK.

Ronnie Kray’s psychotic tendencies play out both in shocking displays of brutality, and also in amusing non sequitur, delivered in an endearing, mumbling speech pattern. It’s entirely intentional: Ronnie will stare off into the middle distance, slack jawed, a faint suggestion of saliva about his loosely parted lips, before suddenly spouting something incoherent about “sausages”. As a performance it works, it really does, but it can sit uncomfortably alongside the film’s darker moments, especially when they happen to be true. There are other tonal missteps, such as Ronnie’s camp-gay-gangster-squad straight out of an episode of The Avengers, or the Kray’s hilariously oblivious mother.

It’s not a case of Legend being a black comedy: there’s a tonal dissonance to it, a sense that when it’s funny it’s extremely funny, and when it’s serious it’s extremely serious, and never the twain shall meet. It often feels like two films. Two very good films, but two separate films nonetheless.

So while Legend is ultimately a slickly produced, well-acted movie, it is an inconsistent one: In trying to be both the unflinchingly violent Kray biopic and the heavily romanticised, 60’s cool knockabout caper, it falls short of greatness in either. It’s a recommended watch – two halves of two different great gangster flicks- but not quite the complete package.

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