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Monday, November 2, 2015

Legend

Well, not quite. It ain't half bad though.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The true story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the notorious twin gangster brothers who all but ruled London in the 1960s and '70s.

What we thought

Legend is, quite frankly, a pretty exasperating piece of work. For every element that works beautifully, there is something else that's just never as good as it should be. It is in many ways a really enjoyable film that's easy to recommend but, at the same time, its weaknesses become more and more distracting as it goes on.

The film grabs your attention pretty much immediately as we meet Reggie taunting a couple of cops whose entire existence is apparently dedicated to following the Krays until Reggie or Ronnie makes the single fatal mistake that will allow them to bring the full force of the law upon their heads. It's terrific stuff with sharp, funny dialogue and excellent performances from Tom Hardy as the charming Reggie Kray and Christopher Eccleston as his chief nemesis, Constable Scott, who is all but unrecognizable to those of us who are most familiar with him from Doctor Who.

Sadly, already the good stuff is tinged by the film's more unwelcome elements: in this case, Emily Browning's unnecessary and overwrought narration. Browning is generally in very good form, to be fair, as Reggie's long-suffering love interest but she is done no favours in her role as omnipresent over-explainer.

Still, hiccups aside, the first half of the film is really pretty effortlessly enjoyable. It almost definitely does a disservice to the true-life criminals that inspired it as the Krays are written as largely fairly innocuous criminals who may have ruled the East End underworld but, in comparison to most of the hardened gangsters of your average Scorsese movie, they seem almost cuddly in comparison.

Sure, there's your usual extortion, questionable gambling practices and carefully dolled out beatings but they don't appear to actually murder anyone. It's also true that Ronnie Kray is portrayed to be the psycho he is in real life but even there he's pretty much just a smackable dickhead at worst and a rather fun bad ass at best. By gangster film standards, it's all pretty tame, even with a few moments of pretty mad violence, and it's largely just a fun, funny and glitzy (the period details are really nicely rendered throughout) crime comedy-drama.

The problem though is that the good times of the first half obviously couldn't last and the second half of the film slows down the pace considerably and ups the drama as Ronnie's increasingly unhinged behaviour leads to familial falling outs, ugly violence and some genuinely tragic turns. It's inevitable and probably much closer to the truth than the lighter first half of the film, but it's also a lot less fun and significantly more generic. It also feels incongruous with what came before, even if it does pretty accurately portray the reality of how the short-term benefits of a life of crime can prove fatal in the long run.


Ultimately though, for all of its many flaws, Legend is absolutely worth seeing just for Tom Hardy's exceptional work as the very different twin brothers at the heart of the film. He signed up mainly to play the complex psycho, Ronnie, but in many ways, some of his best work here is the more subdued but no less complex and perhaps no less evil Reggie. Either way, he's brilliant in both roles and creates two completely different but equally fully rounded characters that easily hold your attention even when the film itself slips. 

Which, sadly, it does just a bit too often for comfort.



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