TL;DR – Interesting but I doubt it will be remembered a month from now
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Well, it seems like this is the time for a gritty retelling of true stories of the criminal underground and while last week’s ‘Black Mass’ was a boring mess this week’s ‘Legend’ is a little bit more interesting. While one should endeavour to review films on their own merits, it’s a bit hard not to compare the two films due to their similar content, the manner of presentation and proximity of release.
So the basic premise for the film is this is the ‘true’ story of the Kray Twins, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Kray (Tom Hardy) and Reginald ‘Reggie’ Kray (Tom Hardy), gangsters in 1960s London. Reggie is the smooth talker, the good looking twin, well dressed, desperate to be seen as an upstanding member of the community and a success. On the other hand, Ronnie is the black sheep, he suffers from psychosis that requires constant medication, he acts irrationally, holds grudges and is a gay man in a world and time where that was not acceptable. We see their start, their rise and then their inevitable fall, once again this is not a spoiler because like ‘Black Mass’ the film tells you this will happen in the opening few minutes, also it is history so it is not really a secret.
So let’s get the comparisons out of the way straight from the start, is ‘Legend’ a better film than ‘Black Mass’, yer. Firstly while both use a form of narration to keep the story going, ‘Legend’ only uses one narrator, the wife of Reggie, Frances Shea (Emily Browning). This helps because it is a consistent touchstone for the film and also it gives context to the Kray Twins because in many ways we see them from the perspective of an outsider i.e. someone not directly involved in the criminal organisation. Also, the film has the bonus of being set in a much more engaging period to put on screen, 1960s London is a much more energetic vibrant place than 1980s Boston, I mean it at least has better music.
In a film like this what will help draw you in is the people and for the most part, the casting works. Tom Hardy shines as both of the Kray Twins, which means he has to play two very different people that are yet bonded together in a common origin. That is not an easy job, especial with regards to how the characters change over the course of the film. Emily Browning works well as Frances, the wife of Reggie and the narrator of the film. She brings warmth and idealism of someone trying to escape their expected place in life only to find money does not bring happiness. Taron Egerton has a quirky little role as Ronnies’ lover Edward ‘Teddy’ Smith, that actually shows the young actor has quite a range. Of course, Christopher Eccleston brought his A-Game as Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read the Scotland Yard Detective trying to take the Kray’s down because it is Christopher Eccleston and he always does. Also I kind of feel bad that Tara Fitzgerald (Frances’ Mother) has seemingly been cast typed as bitter old women after her time as Selyse Baratheon on ‘Game of Thrones’, but she is really good at it. While ‘Black Mass’ wasted the talent of most of the cast, only Paul Bettany is really wasted here as the boss of the rival gang (The Torture Gang) Charlie Richardson who is almost reduced to a cameo.
Given the film’s small budget it actually does quite a good job of having both twins on screen at the same time, though when they can help it they obviously try to only have one of them in a scene. In fact, there were only a couple of times where you could really tell one of the twins had been inserted into the shoot. The action is generally quite good though the film can be quite brutal at times, these are gangsters after all. The pacing of the film works quite well at the start, unfortunately, it does start to drag towards the end of the second act. Then an event occurs that propels the film into its third act, only for it to once again drag almost all the way to the end.
So in the end, this film had moments of laughter, moments of sadness, moments of triumph, moments of despair, moments of violence and moments of quiet. Is it a great film, no, is it a good film yes, but I don’t think it will be one people remember.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Brian Helgeland
Screenplay by – Brian Helgeland
Based on – ‘The Profession of Violence’ by John Pearson
Starring – Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis, Tara Fitzgerald & Paul Bettany
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 18; NZ: R18; UK: 18; USA: R