DIR/WRI: Brian Helgeland • PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver • DOP: Dick Pope • ED: Peter McNulty • DES: Tom Conroy • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton
You would think that a movie based on two psychotic twin brothers, who rose through the ranks of London’s criminal underbelly, and teamed up with the American mafia with the aim of creating Europe’s own Las Vegas would be a visceral affair, one heck of a story indeed. On top of that you’ve got the secret deodorant – Tom Hardy playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray through some fine digital trickery. Finally, the cherry on top – Brian Helgeland, writer of L.A. Confidential, Mystic River and Man on Fire, is set to write and direct. We all saw the trailer for Legend, we all got excited, and let me tell you, we were all duped!
The first and biggest mistake was placing Emily Browning, who plays Reggie’s wife Frances, as the the film’s narrator. Straightaway we know that we aren’t getting an in-depth or honest portrayal these two gangsters and their true violent nature because we all know that gangsters don’t tell their wives everything. So when we first hear her voice and realise who she is, we know we’re in for a sugarcoated affair. She introduces us to Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the former wears a charming mask to cover his true violent nature, while the latter embraces his criminal lifestyle without any excuses.
Reggie’s suave demeanor helps their firm run smoothly in their East End neighborhood. He walks freely down the street, fraternizing with the community. He enjoys the glamorous life, the women, the nightclubs, the money. While Ronnie lives in a camper van, buggering young boys. There’s an upside though, he’s not prejudice. He takes all sorts. He wears his psychosis like a badge of honour, and in a way there’s something admirable about his honesty. He doesn’t attempt to hide his violent nature like Reggie does, nor is he driven by capitalist means.
At the beginning we laugh, Ronnie is the comic of the two and his frankness is refreshing, but the Reggie character is all too familiar – the likeable anti-hero, who wants to go legit…yada yada yada. Quickly we find ourselves in a generic gangster trope, that seems to drag on forever with no real insight to these two lunatic’s psyche.
The role of Frances is incredibly infuriating, the problem being that we have seen this character all too many times before. She’s beautiful, intelligent, innocent, but of course (snaps fingers) she’s just missing that extra chromosome that reminds civilised people that being romantically acquainted to a violent psychopath is just wrong. She finds Reggie Kray just too damn irresistible to resist. Her response to her mother, who tries to warn her he’s a gangster, is something along the lines of “Well, I’m gonna kiss him tonight”. That’s embarrassing. The casting of Emily Browning was dead wrong for this. She seems too sophisticated to be involved with gangsters, she lacks the conviction that could have been demonstrated better by a less fragile actress.
Clearly, Ronnie is the more intriguing character, but Helgeland decides to stagnate the focus on the relationship between Reggie and Frances, which becomes tedious. We get great glimpses of Ronnie’s peculiar sex life intertwined with drug-fuelled, homosexual orgies with politicians, but these scenes are merely used as comic relief before returning back to the match made in east end. The scandalous and seedy subculture that Ron Kray was immersed in evokes something more forbidden and would have been more daring and refreshing if the filmmakers had decided to explore it more. Even take Reggie out of the film altogether, simply rename the film to ‘Kray’ and see how deep the rabbit hole goes with Ronnie.
Instead, what we are left with is what feels and looks like a second-tier Scorsese gangster flick with genre conventions so generic and monotonous, you begin to feel as old as James Cagney. Legend is sure to gain some praise, particularly from Hardy acolytes, but when all’s said and done, this is one legend that won’t stand the test of time.
18 (See IFCO for details)