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United Kingdom/France 2015
Directed by
Brian Helgeland
131 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: London in the Swinging Sixties was a time of vibrant fashion, iconic music, social change – and the Kray twins, Ronnie (Tom Hardy) and  Reggie (Tom Hardy), a pair of archetypal gangsters who became London’s most notorious criminals and for a time were kings of the underworld and veritable celebrities among the upper-class who frequented their nightclubs. This is their story.

Gangster flicks have long been a stalwart of movie story-telling. Hollywood has defined the genre, so it’s a pleasant change to see something different with psychological interest as well as shoot-‘em-up appeal. Though the film never soars to the heights of classics like the Godfather Trilogy or Goodfellas, there is a strong draw here both from the twins themselves and Hardy’s sensational ability to capture two such different characters. Reggie is portrayed as more of a Mr Suave, softly spoken, the nominal boss of the duo, and a “right charmer” when it comes to snaring beautiful local lass, Frances (Australia’s Emily Browning) as a wife.  Ronnie however is any criminal partnership’s major liability. Later to be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he is a psychopath prone to violent outbursts of temper, murderous behaviour, and total lack of logic. He is also homosexual with a taste for young pretty boys.

Dual role films employing split screen have been around many years, but I’ve not seen anything that technically achieves the desired effect so seamlessly as Legend. Violent fight scenes or the ability of the two to talk over each had me agog at the technical achievement, but in the final analysis comes down to the work of the truly awesome Tom Hardy (recently seen in Locke and Mad Max Fury Road). Obviously makeup has been used to differentiate the brothers, but it is Hardy’s skill with the nuances of speech and facial gestures along with the differences in overall physical demeanour that puts us in no doubt as to which Kray is which.

As for the actual crime story, the necessary ingredients are all here – the cop “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston) determined to break the Kray gang, the opposing gang who must be either dealt with or dealt a lesson, and the nightclubs, the seemingly legitimate cover-up for more scurrilous activities. In their day these clubs attracted London’s “smart” society who felt deliciously cool being around “a bit of rough”, but it was a scandal involving bisexual parliamentarian Lord Boothby (John Sessions) that really put the Krays in the public spotlight as Ronnie procured boys for the old man. An American connection also features in the form of Angelo (the gangster type-cast Chazz Palmintieri) a Nevada casino operator who entices the Krays with the promisr that “we’re gonna make London the Vegas of England!”

The film’s recreation of the 60s is impressive, with great location, spot-on fashion and of the course the iconic music of the day. Even more post-on  spot on is Browning’s excellent performance as the young naïve girl who believes her fiancé’s promises that he will go straight after they marry. It fact, it is Francis and her own personal tragic story that indirectly leads to the Krays’ downfall, and her voice-over gives a strangely incongruous but differing perspective of the life of crime. Writer-director Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of L.A. Confidential) directs with an assured hand although I would have liked more backstory on how the brothers got to where they did.

Fans of the gangster genre should enjoy this film. It’s got the necessary seediness with just the right amount of menace and overt violence leavened with touches of humour and keeps the pace pushing along. But even if none of this appeals, Legend will guarantee you one (or is it two?) of the best performances by a contemporary actor you will see this year. 




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