Tom Hardy sinks his incisors into the dual role of duelling siblings Reggie and Ronnie Kray in Brian Helgeland’s stylish gangster drama that takes on classical and classist themes, then pummels them to pulp
Directed by Brian Helgeland. Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald, Taron Egerton.
Thirty years ago, Tom Cruise made a fantasy movie with Tim Curry, a herd of unicorns and director Ridley Scott called Legend. This is not that movie. If there’s any connection to be made, Brian Helgeland’s LEGEND shares DNA with The Krays, Peter Medak’s 1990 movie about Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin brothers who ruled the London underworld in the 1960s.
Violent, cocky, but entirely self-created criminal kingpins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray became guttersnipe folk heroes: Kids from the wrong side of London who cracked the upper crust with fists and a shiv.
Their story really is the stuff of legend: Greek mythology with a slice of gangster noir, and Helgeland (writer of L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, Man on Fire) revels in his chance to fuse classical theme with classist content.
It’s hard to feel how much substance is running through every blood-drenched frame because the movie is so visually intoxicating with its perfect period design and sexy cast, but it’s there — pulling on your lapel like a half-cocked barfly, howling metaphysical observation into your ear with rancid, fermented breath.
What makes it all worth listening to is the perpetually impressive Tom Hardy, who gets an early start in the Oscar race as he takes on the dual role of Ronnie and Reggie, twin brothers with opposite souls.
As Reggie, the handsome and popular sibling, Hardy gets to showcase his natural charisma and physical presence, while as Ronnie, the towering inferno of talent sears the screen as the sociopathic gay doppelgänger.
Thanks to modern digital effects, the performances and the interactions are seamless. But the fact the twin leads are played by one man adds a metaphysical dimension to the experience. It subconsciously affirms the Jekyll and Hyde idea that good and evil are constantly at war within us, ensuring Helgeland’s ripe imagery is more than just a succession of stunning pictures, and the drama is more than gangster sideshow.
Indeed, LEGEND finds surprising depth — even humour — in the pool of blood these brothers leave behind.
– Katherine Monk