OVER the past few years, Tom Hardy has quite easily become my favourite current actor to watch on screen. In fact, without wishing to sound too “I knew him before you did”, my finger has been firmly pressed against the Hardy pulse since his debut & breakthrough. His career, of course, began in a similar fashion to many of today’s great male actors; as a soldier in Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers. Since that time, the man-who-would-be-Bane has racked up an impressive film resume, whether it’s scaring your pants off as Captain Picard’s young clone, or as notorious British criminal, Charles Bronson.
It was not, however, a film that first cast the young Tom in to my mind as one to keep an eye on in the future – it was, instead, an incredible British television show, The Take, where the current ‘Mad Max’ took on the role of criminal sociopath, Freddie Charles, to a frightening degree of realism in the young crook’s madness & spiralling lack of control.
Enter the Kray twins.
With a knack for playing British career criminals (RocknRolla, Bronson, Layer Cake, and Peaky Blinders to name a few), Tom Hardy doubles up in a somewhat peculiar CGI-version of David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers to play notorious swinging 60s gangsters, Reginald & Ronald Kray – The Kray Twins. The duo effect isn’t distracting when both twins are on screen at the same time, which says a tremendous amount for current computer technology, but there is an ever-present disassociation that, yes, these two people are played by one person.
Hardy – combined with fantastic, yet subtle, make-up – does a damned fine job of making the differences between the two as wide as possible, whether it be through Reggie’s charisma or Ronnie’s hanging bottom lip. These make for great little moments where, in an instance of movie magic, you completely lose yourself in the characters.
Should you make the forgivable mistake of believing both Krays to be leads, Helgeland’s dive into the East-End underworld firmly remains a one-twin show. The story follows events closer to truth than many other biopics, focusing more on Reginald’s rise to power than Ronnie’s descent into insanity. This is not to say that Ronnie’s mental instability does not become a large factor, but when it is not providing an antagonistic crux, it is rolling in with well-timed comic relief.
One of the first scenes with Ronnie has him telling Reginald’s girlfriend, quite openly, that he is homosexual – but this is a gangster we are talking about – and so, in his own words, he is a “giver, not a receiver”. From what we know of the Kray twins, Ronald was not as open as portrayed; his openness about his own sexuality came during late incarceration in Broadmoor, and even then, he demanded to be known as bisexual, and never gay. Again, Hardy renders this turn of character, from suave-to-sinister-in-sixty-seconds Reggie to the ‘younger’ twin Ronnie with scarily convincing degree. You will love them one second – they will make you fear them the next.
Of course, we can go on all day about Tom Hardy’s superb performance in the film – which will no doubt be overlooked by the CG-phobic Academy board next year – but it is the stellar British cast that grounds you to the story. With newcomers, including Kingsman’s Taron Egerton, lining the Kray’s ‘Firm’ alongside established veterans, you can see why so many young actors were able to break into the business with Black Hawk Down.
It is not unexpected to see Legend potentially becoming the future British version of the American gulf war epic. Unfortunately, these talented few, each with their own distinct personas, become drowned out in a movie focused almost entirely on its leading man; while confined to their individual biopics, there are occasions when the supporting characters seem to simply melt into the background of the story. You may not care that a member of the Firm previously predicted to ‘rat out’ the Krays becomes one of Reggie’s closest confidantes, and the development of all but lead female, Frances Shea (Emily Browning), is either lost in the chaos or does not exist.
It’s a shame we don’t follow ‘heavy footed’ detective Leonard “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston) dedicate his entire life to bringing the East London gang down, or see more from the rivalry between the Krays and another famed brothers-led gang, the Richardsons, AKA The Torture Gang. Without wishing to spoil the cast list, should you not have seen it already, keep a close eye for familiar local faces popping up in unexpected roles.
Legend is a modern British masterpiece, with a hint of the old BBC or Lottery-funded 90s films. Sure, these were usually made straight for television, as with another Kray film, The Krays (starring the Kemp brothers), but each had incredible work from young, home-grown writers & actors. The same can be said for Legend – only its writer/director, Brian Helgeland (who gave us the screenplay for LA Confidential) is American-born. We’ll let that one slide. Not wanting to add too much fiction to an already melodramatic story, Helgeland settles instead for focusing on the tale of love between Reggie and Frances – a tale full of equal parts happiness and equal parts woe.
Emily Browning takes a superb turn in her role as the older Kray’s girl, setting up each major event through narration & providing a touch of sanity whenever necessary. Her journey is not necessarily happy, but it is charming and enriching to see a character created purely as a love interest not be portrayed as mindless or innocent. She knows who Reggie is from the start. She knows what he is, no matter how hard he protests he is a club owner. She knows he is a gangster, but she loves him all the same anyway.
If you’re looking for a film along the same lines as Hardy’s most recent blockbuster, Mad Max: Fury Road, with action & drama intertwined, then Legend is probably not for you. It suffers in its lack of intensity and by staying as true to reality as possible, it can become too dull in parts. For all intents and purposes, however, its drama, grittiness, and comedy is top of the class. As with most post-Ritchie gangster films, Legend benefits from a touch of farce & slapstick (one man getting into a fight with his CGI-imposed self, anyone?) but doesn’t let you fall under the pretence that this is a film for the faint of heart.
With fantastic performances from a well-rounded cast and scenery that shoves you straight into the sixties – whether you want to be there or not – Legend has, for now, forced its way into my top five favourite films. This is a matter that, oddly enough, has made me realise that all of those said five films have my so-called ‘favourite current actor’ starring in every one of them. It might be favouritism, but this one-man mob, soon enough, is going to rule the world.