Picture a family where the boiling point is low, the boundaries within it are so tight that loyalty takes precedence over morality, little is learned from mistakes made or punishments rendered, and at least one member of the family is psychotic, but intelligence and craftiness are high, and you will already be acquainted with the entertaining Kray family. Twins Ronnie and Reggie (both played by Tom Hardy) seem to be chips off the old block, if glimpses of their father and mother are any indication. They’re successful in the nightclub/casino business—at least Reggie is—and are even courted by the notorious American Meyer Lansky to share business profits. The problem is that Reggie keeps getting put into prison, and he leaves the business to Ronnie to run.
Legend is based on John Peerson’s book, The Profession of Violence, in which he tells the story of how the Kray twins built a huge criminal network in London in the 1960’s. Swindling, extortion, murder—they would stop at nothing if their ire was sparked or they saw a competitive edge. Director Brian Helgeland, screenwriter for 42, Robin Hood, and The Taking of Pelham, as well as Legend, presents what appears to be a realistic picture of the Krays and their world. He keeps an even pace, and maintains enough suspense to keep us engaged to the end.
One twin, Ronnie, is gay, but Reggie falls head over heels with the sister of one of his friends, who is just the opposite in personality and values as the Kray family. Frances (Browning) is completely genuine, emotionally grounded (despite a mother who only knows how to preach instead of reason with her daughter about dating a gangster), and incredibly naïve. This is exactly what attracts Reggie, who appears to be sincere in his intentions to make substantive changes, but is constantly torn between that and loyalty to his family. He’s the classic abusive husband who forcefully promises to make changes, but reverts to his core under stress.
Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the twins is noteworthy, given they are so different in personality. He does such a good job, it makes you appreciate the power of the personality over the visual image of a person. There are tiny things—such as the exposure of more or fewer teeth—and the manner of speaking, but the largest contrast is between how they conduct themselves socially. Reggie is much more smooth and appealing then Ronnie, who, like the crazy person he is, blurts out whatever is on his mind—which is often a skewed picture. Reggie is calculating; whereas Ronnie is instantly reactive.
Emily Browning is a fine partner with Hardy in his Reggie role. She captures a character who is subtle, sometimes surprising, but always thoughtful, pensive even, despite being regarded as rather empty headed.
Another big plus to this film is Carter Burwell’s music. He is uncanny in setting the perfect music, song, or tune that captures the emotional tone of every scene, especially the big ones, or introduces a dark, violent sequence.
Perhaps this was only a problem for me, but I had difficulty understanding much of the dialog in Cockney. Hardy as Reggie talking in a low indistinct voice or Ronnie as blustering and complaining was difficult to understand. I realize the filmmakers’ interest in conveying messages about the characters in this way, but if the audience can’t understand the dialog, it detracts from the movie.
Tom Hardy doubled is worth the price of a ticket!
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland