Legend (2015)

Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Written by Livvy O’Brien


“Legend” is based on the notorious and scandalous Kray twins, who established a criminal empire in London’s East End during the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s. With remarkable finesse, Tom Hardy takes on the challenging dual role of portraying both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, while Emily Browning graces the screen as the glamorous yet delicate Frances Shea, who serves as our insightful narrator. Under the visionary direction of Brian Helgeland, the film brilliantly encapsulates the zeitgeist of 1960s London, immersing the audience in a visually stunning journey. Helgeland ingeniously bypasses the clichéd childhood montage and places us directly into the heart of the action. 

The most obvious standout feature of this film is Hardy’s performance. It was nothing short of spectacular. His ability to bring distinct personalities to each twin is a testament to his acting abilities. From the distinguished and charismatic Reggie, to the tortured and dissonant Ronnie, Hardy proves himself to be brilliant. I was already immersed in his performance but I was blown away in a scene where Reggie and Ronnie get into a fierce altercation and Hardy basically fights himself which is a cinematic experience that transcends the standards he’s set in previous films. This scene’s choreography and directing is flawless, as the camera work and pace heighten the tension and atmosphere in the room. The audience is kept on the edge of their seats, completely engrossed in the psychological and physical conflict taking place before their eyes. This scene is a compelling examination of duality, inner turmoil, and the complexity of these infamous twins.    While “Legend” has necessary sequences of action and intensity, it’s the drama, particularly between Reggie and Frances, that stands out for me. This intimate version of the Kray twins’ story which focuses on their personal lives and the ties that created them, is fascinating to watch. Browning’s presence on screen heightens the film’s overall effect. Her acting provides great emotional depth to the story and compliments the cast’s outstanding performances. Browning blends Frances’ charm and vulnerability with an aura of strength. Reggie’s impressive charisma conceals his violent behaviour and Frances is lured in by the façade. Her portrayal provides an essential touch of compassion and empathy as the audience is brought through the chaotic world of the Kray twins, making her character sympathetic. Helgeland could have easily glossed over Frances’ story, but instead presented her tragic experience with care. Even the fact that she narrated the film demonstrates how essential her involvement in the Kray Twins’ life is, and I’m pleased that her story wasn’t neglected. 

That being said, I wouldn’t say that this is Helgeland strongest film. My introduction to his work began with “A Knights Tale” which is a film that I love a lot. So, naturally, I had high hopes for “Legend,” and the first half of the film definitely lived up to those expectations. I was pretty blown away on my first watch if I’m being honest. The charm of “A Knight’s Tale” derives from its medieval fantasy setting, which allows for an over-the-top and whimsical approach and in turn, performs brilliantly for the plot. It’s a world where such excess feels completely natural. In contrast, “Legend” tries to recreate a similar campy vibe, but the difficulty is that the Kray twins were real-life people engaged in London’s criminal underground, far from the magical. When Helgeland applies this unique style to tell their story, it sometimes comes off slightly inauthentic, bordering on a satirical portrayal of these gangsters. 

Upon my initial viewing of “Legend,” I was genuinely impressed by the film’s unique take on the Kray twins’ story. And considering I’m not the biggest fan of action films, even the sheer fact that I was entertained was a win for me. However, when I returned to “Legend” for a second watch, I couldn’t help but note that the appeal I had the first time around had faded. And I can’t identify exactly what is responsible for this shift in my opinion. It’s like the façade had dropped and I didn’t really enjoy it the second time around. Perhaps it was a matter of expectations; the element of surprise and novelty that had first captivated me had vanished. Or maybe I was able to spot errors in the storyline that became evident. Either way, my opinion’s have changed and I don’t think that this is a must-watch. If you’re a fan of action films fused with drama, you will probably enjoy it. If you want to know more about the Kray Twins, watch a documentary because “Legend” is a very dramatic retelling of these London gangsters. There’s better, there’s worse, it’s fine.

“Legend” Trailer

You can follow Livvy O’Brien on Letterboxd.

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