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Legend is a pretty good film that could have been great, but isn’t because nothing really happens. Brian Helgeland, better known for Man on Fire and L.A. Confidential, did a good job adapting the book by John Pearson, into this film, but we all hoped he would have done a better job.
With so much to work with and Tom Hardy in the leading role(s), it all seemed like the perfect recipe for what could have been a classic in a few years. Or maybe the British mafia isn’t as exciting as the American one.
As the film looks good, and it does have really good scenes, it is hard to tell if it was a lack of building the story up to something worth of a drama, or if it was just the editing to blame. Tom Hardy plays both Ronald and Reginald Kray, in this story about the famous identical twin gangsters of 1960s London. While this might sound like the wrong mix, Tom Hardy playing the Krays does not look or feel bad at all, not even during the scene where the brothers fight.
While the film is about the Krays as gangsters, it does spend a lot of time focusing on their individual “romantic” relationships, rather than on the story that everyone wanted to see – the rise and fall of the Krays. With this in mind we are presented in detail with the relationship between Reggie and Frances Shea (Emily Browning), from start to finish, which seems to change the twin from the calm and calculated man into the violent and mindless gangster everyone thought he was.
In contrast, Ronnie was a medically declared psychopath with a very unpredictable personality, especially when he would not take his medication. Moreover, he was an open homosexual, a shocking thing to be in the 1960s, especially in the business of being a gangster. But everyone seemed to respect that, and whoever didn’t, they had to pay a painful price for it.
The story goes back and forth between the separate lives of the Krays and their evolution as gangsters. Always having policemen Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston) and Constable Scott (Joshua Hill) one step behind them, mostly thanks to Reggie. That until Ronnie decides to go after a rival gang, without any consideration for consequences, taking some of his own down along the way. This is the tipping point, where police take the lead with the help of Albert Donoghue, who turns from henchman to informant out of fear from the unpredictable Ronnie.
In the end, Emily Browning and Tom Hardy’s performances make up for the lack of a better told story. A gangster film should never be a “flat line” of events, even if it presents itself as a biography. Stories should be told with a bit more passion, otherwise there’s nothing to relate to or feel excited about. All in all, it is still a very interesting film and it does a good job of showing how organised crime had its hands in the right pockets, and how it almost managed to take over London.