Part family drama and part crime thriller, Legend tracks the rise and fall of 1960s London’s notorious gangster twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Tom Hardy takes on both roles in a ferocious double performance, expertly portraying the distinct personalities of the paranoid-schizophrenic, portly Ronnie and of the charming, handsome Reggie through deliberately composed split screens and messy, exciting bar fights.
Starting with Reggie’s courtship of the petite and pretty Frances Shea (Emily Browning), who also acts as the narrator of the film, Legend zips through the history of The Firm (the Krays’ gang) via interactions with the police and rival gangs and business deals with the American mafia before settling back into the drama between Reggie, Frances, and Ronnie. Frances, who was 16 when she met Reggie, falls in love straight away with the suave, gentlemanly gangster and is swept up in the glamour of celebrity surrounding him. But, when his criminal life intrudes on their bliss, she begs him to leave behind his risky way of life and his dangerous brother for a legitimate future. Unfortunately, Frances’s pleas and ultimatums make very little impact when competing with the thrill of violence, briefcases full of money, and the unbreakable bond between twin brothers. With Ronnie’s instability, Reggie finds himself constantly cleaning up his brother’s sloppy misdeeds and obligated to protect The Firm from Ronnie’s mismanagement. As in real-life, Frances’ story ends tragically shortly after marriage to her beloved Reggie.
The script suffers from showing many crucial events of the Krays’ lives without dwelling on the long histories behind them or the bigger impact they had on the world they lived in—such as The Firm’s long feud with the Richardson gang or Ronnie’s flirtations with society-wrecking scandal—which makes the overarching narrative seem aimless until things coalesce at the end. A few subtle to blatant changes from the historical truth help to create a tidy ending to the relationship between Reggie, Frances, and Ronnie as well as simplify the events leading to the twins’ incarceration, but to someone more familiar with the real-life stories of the Krays, these alterations may seem a travesty.
In terms of acting, Hardy is outstanding, of course, but the film squanders the rest of the fine cast—which includes David Thewlis as the gang’s business manager, Paul Bettany as a rival gang leader, and Christopher Eccleston as the cop on the Kray case, among many others—by offering little back story or screen time for any characters except Frances and the twins. The twins’ mother and father get very small scenes and their older brother is not even mentioned. Some characters present in many scenes (mostly Ronnie’s or Reggie’s henchmen) are not given lines, names, or clear roles, yet are clearly included for historical reasons. It’s a shame that the filmmakers decided to have the shallowest of explorations into the relationships that the Krays had with many other characters because the film’s scope feels myopic and empty. Aside from the searing brilliance of Tom Hardy times two, Legend does not quite live up to its name.
Rating: 3 out of 5 lemon sherbets