Legend is an extremely lavish biopic. Despite being about a pair of notorious British villains it has both the look and feel of an American gangster epic. There is no real attempt to depict either the period or the locations accurately nor is the story of the Kray twins themselves factually correct. As ever with American productions of this nature both the era and the subject matter are viewed through a miasma of sentimentality and faux nostalgia. The Krays are portrayed as folk heroes rather than the petty thugs that they were. However if you are prepared to overlook these deliberate biases then Legend is can still be an entertaining movie.
There is a very slick and even Vogue-like aesthetic to Legend. The cinematography by Dick Pope is very luxuriant as it strives to recreate that Sixties look and feel. However, as so often is the case, the production design becomes a caricature of what it strives to achieve, resulting in distinct lack of authenticity. London was never that glamourous and no amount of Burt Bacharach or ambient period music can really convince us otherwise. This ersatz world of the Krays is also somewhat tonally inconsistent with the bloodletting and violence.
Naturally the dual roles played by Tom Hardy dominate the proceedings and the critical reviews. Such a daunting task as creating two unique performances is seldom undertaken by actors. I can only recollect two convincing prior attempts, namely Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers and Sam Rockwell in Moon. In this instance Hardy’s portrayal of Reggie Kray is thoroughly credible. His performance with regard to Ronnie is shall we say a little more experimental. Ronnie has a somewhat comic element to his nature which at times veers from sinister to borderline Alan Partridge. The interaction between the twins is also inconsistent. On occasions you feel you are in the company of two genuine gangsters and at others it’s like you’re listening to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore discussing Shelley Winter’s in The Poseidon Adventure. Because of the focus on Hardy’s dual roles, it puts a lot of the rest of the cast in the shade which is a shame. There’s a lot of talent in the cast of Legend.
Legend has obviously been made for an international market and therefore plays to the tropes and memes of the genre. Emily Browning’s voice-over highlights this in every way as it attempts to sell this patently stylised mythology of the Krays. The violence depicted during the film is unpleasant but curiously mitigated by the patently phoney historical context. Although there were failings in Peter Medak’s 1990 movie The Krays, it got a lot more right and was far more powerful in its depiction of East End thuggery. It was also a more honest movie because it didn't try and sell us the folk hero myth that writer/director Brian Helgeland does in Legend.
If you are happy to accept from the get go that Legend is a commercial and stylised gangster story rather than a credible biopic then it may well grant you an undemanding evening’s entertainment. Tom Hardy is fascinating to watch and if the narrative is not to your liking then you can happily focus on the technical achievement of the movie. The seamless interaction between Hardy’s two performances is impressive. Legend is no The Long Good Friday or Sexy Beast, so don’t expect a film of commensurate calibre. This is very much a pop culture movie rather than a serious evaluation of Britain’s most infamous criminals. However as the legacy of the Kray twins has since become a commercial brand in itself perhaps Legend is the most appropriate form of depiction.