In the list of my top 15 films of all time, I have four films about criminals. Three of these have gangster-ish figures as their lead characters. My favourite film of all time is Goodfellas. In case it's not obvious, I enjoy these types of movies. I enjoy crime films, and I was most certainly excited for both Black Mass and Legend. After watching Black Mass, which hit Australian theatres yesterday, I came out slightly disappointed, and I'd been hearing mixed things about Legend as well. I prepared myself to be disappointed by this movie, but at the same time I was begging for it to be good. I ended up liking Legend more than I did Black Mass, and it seems I'm the only one who did.
Legend tells the true story of Ronald Kray (Tom Hardy) and his twin brother, Reggie Kray (also Tom Hardy). Set in London in the 1960s, Ron is a club owner, spending his time looking after his bar while also maintaining an intimate relationship with a woman named Frances (Emily Browning), who narrates the story from her point of view. Reggie is fresh out of the mental hospital, living in an RV with his boyfriend, Teddy (Taron Egerton). The two start to rise to power as gangsters, becoming feared all throughout Europe. As they rise to power, trouble comes their way, both with the law and with other gangs. Their methods are unorthodox, and their acts of extreme violence could just bring them down.
Legend could easily have painted these men as idols, and many were worried that that's just what they were going to do. Taking a slightly comedic route could've ended up painting these men as loveable heroes, which they most certainly were not. They were violent. They were unforgiving. They were criminals. They weren't likeable people. The Kray's were notorious gangsters, and after watching this movie, they still aren't people I'd want to have dinner with. The film depicts them as the psychopaths that they were, exploiting their crimes without accepting what they did. In fact, the film frowns upon their actions, and that's something I really wanted out of it.
Tom Hardy plays both Ron and Reggie Kray, and he may just give the greatest performance, or performances, of his career. Before I continue, I must point out that Legend is far from Hardy's best movie. He's certainly been in better films, such as Mad Max Fury Road earlier this year, but no film of his has better proven his talents as an actor than this one. He's unstoppable, providing us with two very different performances that both work flawlessly, and the special effects work is just as great. There is but one moment when the effects appear obvious, and this shot lasts for just a few seconds. For the rest of the film, differentiating between the Tom Hardy's is quite the challenge, especially in a scene where Tom Hardy has a fight..... with himself.
What adds to the impressiveness of his performance, however, is the fact that he's playing two very different characters. Ron and Reggie, while identical, are far from similar. They're in the same business, but there's a constant tension between them. Ron is the more approachable one, full of charm and charisma. He's cocky, but he gets his way. Then there's his brother Reggie, and who knows what to expect with him. He's a violent, paranoid schizophrenic who at one point is even armed with a hammer. Anything goes.
Legend is brought to us from writer-director Brian Helgeland, the man responsible for writing L.A. Confidential and Mystic River, and more recently he directed the Jackie Robinson biopic, 42. His writing, once again, is absolutely phenomenal. His career as a writer is certainly flawed, a couple of his films ending up being quite awful, but not all of them were the script's fault. That being said, with Legend, his script is excellent, balancing out drama with comedy while maintaining an honesty about the entire situation. It runs a little too long and has a few clichés, but it's entertaining nonetheless.
As for his directing style, that works as well, giving the film plenty of its much-needed energy. Some of the camera movement has obviously been put there to hide the fact that Tom Hardy is playing two of the main characters, but I can forgive the film for doing that. It's not that the angles are bad, either. But as for everything else, it's shot and directed beautifully, one long shot in particular showcasing just how talented this cast is. The shot must go on for a solid three minutes or so and it's jaw dropping Helgeland has really outdone himself with this movie.
To sum up, Legend tells the Kray's story how it should be told. It's honest, it's brutal and it has a dark sense of humour. Tom Hardy shines in his duel role, providing us with what is arguably his best performance(s) to date, and director Brain Helgeland has never been better.