Monthly Archives: November 2015

Film review- Legend

Main cast

Tom Hardy  as Ronald “Ronnie” Kray and Reginald “Reggie” Kray

Emily Browning as Frances Shea

Christopher Eccleston as Leonard “Nipper” Read  A Detective Superintendent in charge of taking down the Krays

Taron Egerton as Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith – A psychopathic gay man rumoured to have had affairs with Ronnie

Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson

David Thewlis as Leslie Payne The Krays’ business manager

Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno – The head of the Philadelphia crime family and friend and business associate to Ronnie and Reggie.

Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson

Director Brian Helgeland

This biopic of the East End gangsters  of fifty years ago, the Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray,   contains a great deal of technological wizardry and an unusual  performance by Tom Hardy who plays both  twins.  The technology is so slick that it allows both Krays to appear on the screen at the same time without any sense that the scenes have been faked,  even when the twins  have an extended fight.

But technological marvels do not equal a good film and Legend has severe weaknesses.  Like many biopics it  tries to cover too much ground, thinking that by ticking off a large number of incidents in a life this in itself produces  the ideal telling of a life.    That may have some merit in a written biography but it is death in a film.  The Krays being violent to establish their claim to be hard men,   Reggie having a brief spell in prison, the murders of  George Cornell and Jack “the Hat” McVitie, and a good deal more simply  flash by. This gives precious little opportunity for character development or a proper examination of  any part of the biographical  subject’s life.

It is true that Hardy’s performance as the twins is remarkable in as much as he invents  two distinct personas  for the Krays; an almost rational albeit violently amoral one for Reggie and a declamatory  character with the hint of a lisp  for Ronnie, who spends the film in a perpetual  state of violence, both suppressed and realised, while hatching crackpot plans for the establishment of a Utopian community  in Nigeria or  saying things which utterly discompose other characters such as  his habit of loudly announcing that he is a homosexual.   Hardy also gives Ronnie a rich behavioural wardrobe of tics and bulging eyes that  seem to be perpetually on the point of shooting out of their sockets. This creates a problem because Hardy’s  Ronnie is so off the wall that he comes across not as a real human being, however flawed, but as a monster created for theatrical effect.

It is true that gangster films often  have a cartoonish element  because of the mixture of  the normal with the abnormal,  for example,  characters frequently engage  in incongruously  normal conversations about, for example, their wives and children during which they often assume a moral position, then engage in some horrific violence.  But such scenes do not dominate films and are often deliberately funny. The depiction of Ronnie in Legend  is neither amusing nor truly threatening.   It also detracts from Hardy’s depiction of Reggie – which is convincing enough when  taken in isolation – because  it is difficult to take seriously either of the characters when one is palpably ridiculous. ( Try to imagine Bond or  Jason Bourne acting against  Norman Wisdom playing  a villain in his  most popular character guise of Norman Pitkin).

But the main  problem with the film is there is simply too much  Ronnie and Reggie .The best gangster  films are those where  there is  strong ensemble playing. Think of the Godfather series or Friday the Thirteenth.  Apart from Emily Browning as  Reggie’s girlfriend and eventual  wife  Frances Shea  (the most convincing scenes are those  between Hardy in his guise as Reggie and Francis Shea)   and (just about)  David Thewlis as Leslie Payne the Krays’ business manager,  the other characters simply do not have the chance to develop because they have so little screen time.  Bewilderingly, the personality who supposedly loomed largest in the Krays’ minds in the real world, their mother Violet (Jane Wood) barely appears, while two  actors  with  substantial  film careers –  Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson and  Christopher Eccleston as Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read  – are variously barely used (Bettany)  or given only a series of scenes so short that their effect is  minimal  (Eccleston).

At the end of the film my thoughts turned to the  1990 film The Krays in which the Kemp brothers from Spandau ballet played  the twins.  In some ways  this was unintentionally  an extremely funny film  because it was set in an unbelievably clean East End;  Billie Whitelaw in the role of the Krays’ mother produced the worst attempt at an East End accent I have ever heard from a professional actress – right up there with Dick VanDyke’s “Gor blimey, Mary Poppins”  – and   Steven Berkoff  enjoyably went an astronomical distance over the top as George Cornell.

But the saving grace of  The Krays was  characters other than  the twins being much more developed. Moreover, the portrayal of the difference between the  Krays was less contrived. Indeed, considering their lack of acting experience at the time  the Kemp brothers  were surprisingly, indeed from their view point, perhaps worrying convincing as the Krays, with Ronnie being a much more believable  character than he is in Legend.  Hence, for all its absurdities  The Krays  is both a more convincing evocation of the twins and considerably more entertaining  than Legend , which  truth to tell becomes rather boring as the film progresses because it is all rather one-dimensional.

Legend is a not  howling flop merely  mediocre. I say this with  regret because Tom Hardy is a charismatic  and accomplished actor, probably the best English  film actor  of his generation.  The subject matter also suits him because he is a convincing hard man with a fine talent for portraying violence.  But in the end the film is too unbalanced, too unbelievable to be either a meaningful biopic or simply a first rate gangster film.

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