When we first see Tom Hardy, and Tom Hardy, onscreen in Legend we’re awed by the spectacle – it’s stylish, it’s slick, it works well, it shocks you, and it damn well looks good. It’s take a little getting accustomed to, but eventually you’re used to the double act, and you’re no longer looking out for the tell-tale signs of a workaround – even if one occasionally leaps out at you, such as when Reggie Kray disappears into a trailer ‘for a beer’ so that Ronnie Kray can be onscreen alone. When that spectacle wears off, when you stop being wowed by double Tom Hardy, Legend starts to wear a little thin – but it’s still an entertaining romp through 1960s London.
The ‘Legend’ of the title refers, of course, to the Kray twins, the notorious rulers of London’s East End in the 1960s. And Legend is a fitting title – the film is more of a portrayal of myth, of the legend that surrounds the brothers, rather than actual events. What little storyline there is only really comes together at the end, and for most of the film it’s cast aside in favour of style. While each scene is often played well, well-acted, and above all well-designed, there’s a curious disconnect between each piece of action that makes the film feel like a very long, unstructured series of vignettes – an effect worsened by the script’s rapid jumps from comedy to violence to drama.
The lack of tonal consistency doesn’t serve the film well, and is manifest perfectly in the characterisation of Ronnie Kray. From Hardy’s Terry Tibbs-esque accent, to the announcement of Ronnie’s mental illness (and the complete lack of exploration of that aspect of his character), and to the film’s portrayal of his homosexuality – which is clumsily dealt with, and shoved in our face in practically every scene – the character of Ronnie Kray is all over the place. Writer/Director Brian Helgeland (who penned LA Confidential) likely made the decision to ensure the character fit into the ‘loose cannon’ archetype, but it leaves him feeling like a caricature rather than something based on a real person.
Perhaps the film’s best work is in its design: the sets, props and costumes developed for the film do a fantastic job of transporting you to 1960s London, and are a large part of the film’s excellent style – alongside cinematographer Dick Pope (long-time Mike Leigh collaborator), whose composition is as artistic and stunning as usual.
The verdict? Legend is pretty good. Just don’t go expecting wonders – it’s far from perfect. Much like the Kray twins.
Image: Greg Williams/Studiocanal/PA Wire