Review: Legend (2015)

Legend is a rather inappropriately named crime film that came out two years ago now, written and directed by Brian Helgeland. Inappropriately named because it charts the rise and fall of the Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie (both played by Tom Hardy), notorious East End gangsters of the 60s.

This was on Channel 4 recently and I ended up rewatching it. It’s an interesting film to come back to quite casually, aware of what’s coming but still with the fresh eyes of having forgotten what was good about it on the first watch.

Legend, as I’ve already said, charts the rise and fall of the Kray twins, but does so through the perspective of Francis Shea (Emily Browning), the girlfriend and later wife of Reggie, who narrates the film. If you already know about the Krays, you might raise your eyebrows at that, and yes, that revelation late in the film was a sticking point with me too.

I’m not sure whether it’s the pacing of the film or the chosen focus (or both) that prevents this film from being very good. It is good, or definitely watchable at least. But it always feels a lot longer than it is, and a lot slower than it should do considering the span of time and events it covers.

I think it’s the way that everything is filtered through the plot that drifts to the centre, the relationship between Frances and Reggie. It is an interesting relationship: a very young, vulnerable woman falling in love with a gangster, wanting to pull him towards legality, respectability and normality, while his loyalty to his brother and his own violent tendencies tether him to criminality. But as the averageness of Legend attests, it’s not the best starting point for delving into the career of the Krays.

That averageness is a pity, because it has some moments and sequences that suggest what could have been a crime film that’s more entertaining than it should be. The war with the south London Torture Gang and the Krays’ eventual downfall and arrest are obvious plots that are swept up as quickly as possible. Every fight scene is a brutal, bone-crunching punch up. There’s a lot of humour to be found in the family tiffs that bleed into business meetings.

Legend‘s real strength is in the acting. Across the board, pretty much everyone is pitch perfect. Obviously the stand-out is Tom Hardy’s dual role, a performance so good you can forget it’s the same actor. But two special mentions must be made, both of whom are the slightly out-of-place points of humour in the cast of gangsters: David Thewlis as Leslie Payne, the Krays’ business manager, with his increasing exasperation and attitude of babysitting overly-violent toddlers, and Taron Egerton as Mad Teddy Smith, Ronnie’s lover, who is so gleefully unhinged that he’s the funniest thing in the film.

In the end, what you’re watching Legend for is the performances, not the ‘romance’-burdened plot.

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