Tom Hardy is a strange fish as an actor. Famous for being almost incomprehensible in “The Dark Night Rises” and almost equally incomprehensible in his co-starring role in “The Revenant”, it’s sometimes really difficult to get a sense of his true abilities. Here in “Legend” he gets to show what he’s made of…. Twice! Hardy plays both roles in the story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, the infamous gangsters who ruled across large parts of London in the 1960’s.
The film tells the story of the rise of the duo, focusing in particular on the wooing by Reggie of Frances (Emily Browning), the local girl who fell in love with and then married the hoodlum. Reggie and Ronnie – whilst both undisputed ‘bad uns’ – were as different as chalk and cheese. Reggie was all for semi-legitimising the business, running deals through his socialite-heavy clubs, and gaining higher-level cover by inveigling his way into control of political contacts such as Lord Boothby (a delightfully oily John Sessions).
In contrast, Ronnie was an out-and-out psychopath with a malfunctioning ‘off’ button and no button at all marked ‘self-control’. An open homosexual – something far more shocking in the ‘60s than it is today – Ronnie was a medicated loose cannon that even Reggie had trouble controlling. Gathering a posse of ‘boys’ around him (including Kingsman’s Taron Egerton) Ronnie blazes a trail of bloody violence against rival gangs with little regard to the consequences.
On the side of the law was Nipper Read (“Dr Who” re-booter Christopher Ecclestone) as the dogged detective trying to find something – anything – to pin on the brothers.
Hardy manages to convey each brothers’ idiosyncrasies so well that you quickly forget that this is the same actor playing both roles. It is only in some of the more interactive scenes (such as a fight between the two of them) that the illusion fails apart somewhat and where acting twins would have made for more convincing footage (unfortunately Jedward were unavailable!).
What makes Hardy’s performance as Reggie particularly memorable is that for much of the film – and against your better judgment – you end up rooting for Reggie and wishing him to ‘succeed’. (This is more by way of comparison against Ronnie’s truly abhorrent behaviour than against any absolute measure of ‘good’).
Browning is also compelling as the love-lost Frances, getting deeper and deeper into a world she has no control over and having to act to extremes of both love and fear. Also worthy of mention is the portrayal by David Thewlis (Lupin from the Potter films) of the Kray’s financial advisor Leslie Payne: a man who knows he has the financial respect of the twins (at least Reggie) but is always sailing a dangerous course between kowtowing to them and criticising their actions.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (“Payback”), this is an intelligent British thriller, reflecting a visceral view of the criminal underworld of London in the ‘60’s. Overall, its an enjoyable watch that perhaps – Hardy aside – doesn’t quite live up to its potential. A note however for the sensitive viewer: this is a very (very) violent film in places, and a couple of the scenes in particular are hard to watch.
Fad Rating: FFFf.