Movie Review: ‘Legend’ leads a violent romp through swinging London
“Everyone has a story about the Krays,” says an off-screen narrator in the first moments of “Legend.” Then she adds, “They were gangster princes.”
They were the identical twins Reggie and Ron Kray, major components of the London crime scene in the 1960s. They’re both played, under the guidance of writer-director Brian Helgeland (“42,” “Payback”), by Tom Hardy, much in the same way David Cronenberg directed Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists in 1988’s Dead Ringers.”
While that film was creepy, this one is a study of ruthless, misdirected power, and it’s unflinching in its brutal violence. Yet it’s also quite entertaining, in an as-dark-as-you-can-imagine way. Part of that is due to Helgeland’s script, which has sparkles of wit mixed in with its grim story. But most of the credit, for both its blackness and its sometimes disconcerting humor, goes to the force of nature known as Tom Hardy.
Hardy is surrounded by a fine supporting cast – Emily Browning as Reggie’s girlfriend, the young, recklessly adventurous Frances Shea; David Thewlis as Leslie Payne, the brothers’ financial adviser; Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno, a New York mobster who pays them a visit that’s not exactly a social call; and Taron Egerton (Eggsy in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) as Teddy, their swishy underling. But it’s Hardy’s film all the way because he’s one actor playing two distinctly different, but very similar-looking people.
The easy way to tell them apart is that Ron wears glasses. Then there’s their outlook, attitude, behavior, and mental state. They both share a tendency to react to most situations with violence, and they each have very heavy Cockney accents that, for instance, turn the word “think” to “fink” (disconcerting and in need of subtitles for the first 10 minutes, but you’ll easily pick up the rhythm of it). Yet they’re worlds apart when they gush out words, without any built-in filters.
Reggie to 16-year-old Frances soon after they begin dating: “You take my breath away.” To which she adoringly replies, “Well, you can have mine.” Ron, the less stable of the brothers, to Frances, upon meeting her: “I’m a homosexual – a giver not a receiver.” See? Darkly funny. Some viewers are even going to laugh at some of the violence. The film’s first big blast of it is in a scene that could have taken place in a gunslinging horse opera’s barroom, when six members of the rival Richardson Gang go up against the two Krays, and use is made of hammers, brass nux, fists, head butts, and teeth. Later on, when bad timing, bad luck, and bad business decisions cause a rift between the twins, they get into an all-out slug fest. If you don’t laugh (and squirm and wonder how the scene was done) at that, you’ve no proper sense of humor.
But this is no comedy, and most of the violence is fast, hard, and frightening. The script makes sure to let you know that Ron is a psychopath, and that Reggie, while calmer and cooler and classier, isn’t much less dangerous. Scotland Yard is constantly on their tail, but never able to do anything very effective; American mobster Meyer Lansky sends his representative Angelo Bruno to London to tell Ron and Reggie that they are going to work for Lansky, but they insist they will only work <it>with<> him; and the Richardson Gang is calmly waiting for the right time to again make their presence known.
The film is all about the Krays, but at one point it becomes the story of poor, sad, delusional Frances, to whom Reggie made a promise to give up the gangster life. Yeah, right. “Legend” uses lots of upbeat instrumentals, such as “Green Onions,” “The ‘In’ Crowd,” “Watermelon Man,” and “Sleepwalk” to help capture the headiness of the 1960s, but anyone expecting any sort of happy ending is at the wrong movie.
Ed Symkus writes about movie for More Content Now.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland
With Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri