Legend Blu-ray Review
What’s It About? Tom Hardy gives a dazzling double performance as twin East End gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray in the true-crime drama Legend.
Verdict: As Reggie, Hardy is, ostensibly, all smooth surfaces and rounded edges, a charming veneer that masks a propensity for ferocious violence. As Ronnie, Hardy can go from quietly-spoken candour and menace to snarling, spitting indignation and psychopathic rage in the blink of an eye; but even in those quieter moments, we always know that Ronnie is looking for his next showdown.
Even without the characters’ physical differences, Tom Hardy puts in such a strong turn as each brother that you’d have no problem telling them apart. And the way the brothers are presented on screen isn’t all about cunning camera positioning and actor double. In fact, we often see Hardy as both Reggie and Ronnie on screen, side-by-side, in the same shot!
Of course, Hardy’s not the first actor to take on twin roles in a movie: Armie Hammer in The Social Network, Freddie Highmore in Spiderwick Chronicles, and Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. And it’s not the first time that Hardy’s brought a real-life criminal to life on the big screen either. Remember Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s super-stylised film Bronson back in 2009? Well, it featured Hardy giving an insanely bold turn as Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Charles Bronson. And, of course, Hardy’s also made a number of forays into the crime drama genre. Most recently, he played Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons in the BBC period crime drama Peaky Blinders. And before that, he starred in the fantastic crime dramas The Drop & Lawless. And then there was Layer Cake and Rocknrolla too.
As Reggie’s girlfriend, and later wife, Sucker Punch star Emily Browning’s delicate features and softly-spoken approach of occasional quiet defiance work well. And on top of that, she looks tiny next to Hardy, which makes Reggie and Ronnie seem even more imposing and intimidating.
There’s a whole raft of brilliant British actors in supporting roles, though some feel underused given their talent. Still, that’s to be expected as Legend is obviously the Ronnie and Reggie show, and therefore very much the Tom Hardy show. Harry Potter’s David Thewlis puts in a neat turn as the Krays’ “accountant”.
Also, look out for Kingsman: The Secret Service star Taron Egerton as Ronnie’s lover Teddy, former Doctor Who star Christopher Ecclestone as a policeman after the Krays, Paul Bettany as a rival gang leader, and Hardy’s Peaky Blinders co-star Paul Anderson as one of the Kray’s gang. And there’s Merlin star Colin Morgan, who plays Frances’ brother who’s also Reggie’s driver. Morgan continues to show real promise as a film actor, and it’s obvious he just needs the right breakout part now to make a bigger name for himself in movies.
Legend’s writer-director Brian Helgeland is best known for writing loads of screenplays including the superb LA Confidential, though he’s also directed a number of films such as baseball biopic 42 and A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger. Helgeland based the film on author John Pearson’s non-fiction book “The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins”.
I really like the fact that Helgeland drops us right in the middle of the Krays’ story in 1960s London, so we avoid all the usual childhood scenes and their rise to power. What we get is more the expansion of their power from the East to the West End and beyond, their aspirations of expanding their empire still further, and, of course, the events that led to their eventual downfall. And I also like the way, gangster Jack “The Hat” McVitie keeps popping up as a thorn in the Kray’s side throughout the film after we’re introduced to him early on.
In Legend’s combo of a seemingly glamourous lifestyle and very unglamorous violence, Helgeland’s gone for the feel of a British Martin Scorsese movie mixed with some of the movie Scandal, about the Profumo affair. Care has obviously been taken over dressing both the actors and the sets, giving the film a glossy period sheen. And plenty of dark humour has been worked into the story too.
However, there are things that aren’t really clear or at least seemed out of place or disjointed in the script – like why does Ronnie seem to be living in an old beaten-up caravan in the woods at one point? Also, throughout the film we hear voiceover narration from Frances. I wasn’t keen on this framing device as it seems incongruous given that she wasn’t involved in any way in so many of the events she narrates. And her character also ends up feeling more of a means-to-an-end than a fully-written, fleshed-out character.
Still, it’s interesting that the 1990 film The Krays and this film both find their way into the brothers’ story via the women in their life. In the 1990 film, the focus was very much on their mother, Violet; whereas in this latest film, Violet plays a very small part, and it’s Frances who becomes our guide. Still, I much prefer Helgeland’s take on the Krays to the 1990 film starring Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp. For me, that whole film felt melodramatic and really laid on the symbolism way too thick.
Extras: Audio commentary with director Brian Helgeland, Interviews with Cast and Crew, Interactive Map of East London, Legend of the Krays Featurette, World Premiere Featurette.
Final Words: Although Legend tells a familiar story that’s been told time-and-again in print and on screen over the years, writer-director Brian Helgeland has still managed to make 2 hours and 10 minutes of compelling drama. Of course, a large part of that success is due to Tom Hardy who puts in a remarkable performance, or rather two remarkable performances, and is ably supported by a talented cast of well-known faces.
Legend is available on VOD from 18 January 2016, and on DVD, Blu-ray, & Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook from 25 January 2016.