Legend is an extremely American adaptation of the Kray twins’ legend. It embroiders, lavishes and tints the East End to target a larger gloabal audience and through that vein it loses sight of harsh reality.
The story of the Krays is one that all Londoners know. Every family has a story about the Krays. My particular one is as follows: my great grandfather was the Kray’s designated mechanic. He would often overlook many conspicuous activities in favour of another look at their engine.
Nevertheless, the Kray story is a frightening one. In truth they barreled their way through the streets of Bethnal Green in pursuit of a throne atop London. The film plays on that line very well. It’s interesting and somewhat compelling to see Reggie and Ronnie fight for attention in a business where attention is the poison. But, due to generalisation, the film loses that grit and instead opts for comedy and embellishment and it succeeds. In the midst of a dramatic scene, where the tension is high and the performances are great, Legend chooses to drop in small laughs and quips that lighten the tone and return it to slapstick comedy. It becomes a celebration of the Krays rather than an autopsy of their criminal empire. It achieves its goal and in that sense one can’t complain.
The film is full of caricatures and tunes that position the East End of London in a constant state of wit and sarcasm. The physical comedy is fun but the rather loony delivery from Hardy’s Ronnie masks the horror and blood in laughter.
And that is the film’s saving grace: Tom Hardy. His dual performance of Reggie and Ronnie is a beacon of light in a film told from a misguided angle. Reggie is the straightforward face of the Kray brand. Ronnie is the barnstorming, scarred and loony brother. One is played straight and one on the verge of chewing the scenery. There is one particular scene where Reggie and Ronnie go toe to toe. It’s shot very well and Hardy gasping for attention is fantastic. However, our attention always strays towards Ronnie. And it is in Ronnie that we find solace. Whilst we spend more time with Reggie and his budding romance with Francis, there is a lack of depth in the characters and their emotions. We spend very little time with Ronnie but he is an embodiment of the film; his landscape is fun amidst a frame of violence and his childish delivery appeals to our inner child. When we see a hurt dog we are compelled to help and despite Ronnie’s wrongdoings we still want to help.
Legend is a terribly misguided film but a fun one. It attempts to trivialise the Kray’s mission to become legendary and loses sight of a hazy London mythology. Tom Hardy whose performance is visceral, enjoyed and most importantly engaging saves the cartoony film.
Score – C