Legend Review - Tom Hardy Is Psychopathic And FUNNY In The British Attempt At Goodfellas

The actor reaches the big leagues with the Krays.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Part way through Legend, Reggie Kray mimics the slurred delivery of his twin brother and partner in crime, Ronald. "What a spot on impression!" I thought, before catching myself at the ridiculousness of that. Of course Reg can do Ron - they're the same bloody actor. That is the real brilliance at the core of Tom Hardy's performance as the Kray twins; he's so into both characters you begin to forget there's all manner of trickery going on to allow this double role to even exist. Of course, I don't really need to tell you Hardy's great - that much is only to be expected - but the extent to which he makes Ron and Reggie distinct is subtle brilliance. Each twin has nice and nasty sides, albeit with varying levels of awareness and psychosis, and while his take on the classy Reggie hits the mark slightly more than the "character" of Ron, he portrays both so convincingly it's easy to say the casting gamble (or gimmick, if you're being a bit more cynical) pays off. Next to him, most of the other actors in the film are pretty much window dressing (although props to both Emily Browning and Taron Edgerton for solid supporting roles).
Hardy's two performances manage to appear on screen together through a mixture of split screen and body doubles, aided invaluably by some consistently restrained cinematography. It's not as technically impressive as David Fincher's handling of the Winklevi in The Social Network, but Legend smartly maintains the shooting style required for those effects throughout most of the film (even when there's only one Hardy about), meaning scenes of the pair together are flawlessly integrated into the wider movie. The only real knock here is that the CGI on Ron's double is sometimes a bit rubbery and poorly shaded, but it's only in a handful of moments and not enough to ruin the effect. Carefully presenting Hardy's rightly lauded performance aside, Brian Helgeland's direction is pretty by-the-by. There's the usual computer backdrops you now expect from any film set in 1960s London and he captures the typical grime of the era without forgetting to add a little British quaintness, but I get the feeling he spent so much time on getting his star right everything else was secondary. Where he does shine is with script (unsurprisingly given that's where he earned his much lauded Oscar). The story bounds through the sixties and the Krays' ascension with constant, impressive speed - Christmas keeps coming round unexpectedly quick, highlighting the length of their "reign" over London - and its episodic plots unexpectedly wind together into an extended finale that aims to remind you crime's not all fun and games. It's nothing new for the gangster film, but there is something impressive about how that tying up works as an embodiment of the film's core comment on unexpected personal and societal change.
With that in mind, the real aim with this film is quite clearly to make a British Goodfellas (pretty apt given the Krays' focus on self-aggrandised myths). Early on Reg takes sweetheart Francis out to his own private bar where we're treated to a long take that feels like a Hackney approximation of Scorsese's Copacabana one shot, and the overt similarities just pile up from there; the constant voice-over, era-emotive songs (even if they don't quite always work) and that age old bait-and-switch of presenting gangster life as this glorious, consequence free utopia before showing its really dark underside are all present and correct. Helgeland hits his targets better than some of Scorsese's other imitators (here's looking at you, Blow), although where Legend does stumble is in that moral disquiet. I really dig ambiguity, and the film just doesn't go down this avenue as much as it should - moments of "this isn't good" are shocking when they come, but are too infrequent and oftentimes tangential - to the point where, like Goodfellas (and The Wolf Of Wall Street), I fear far too many people are going to take Legend at face value. That's partly the audience's fault, to be fair, although the film doesn't help itself with some of its joviality around gang murder.
In fact, the film is, at points, straight-up funny. He may have been certifiably insane in real life, but here Ron's craziness (Krayziness?) is the source of some pretty dark humour, as well as jokes that come across as a tad silly. Hardy just about kept it reigned in to ensure the character felt menacing when he needed to, but for all the film's darkness, those moments did leave me thinking that the Krays were a threat detached from reality. Although I would hazard that's kinda the point. The Krays weren't the legends they wanted or perceived themselves to be. They were smalltime gangsters who only climbed up the crime business ladder on the back of their self-created brand and whose most notorious acts were the results of raging emotions and idiotic shortsightedness. It may open with Reg schmoozing his way down a cobbled street, offering his police tail a cuppa, returning lost items and being a generally nice fella, but Legend doesn't seek to ascend the Krays to mythical status. No, if there's a legend in this film, it's Hardy. We may have all gone bonkers for Mad Max: Fury Road this summer, but it's Legend that pretty much cements him as a modern British great.
Legend is in UK cinemas now and in US cinemas on 2nd October.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.