Is Tom Hardy’s dual role a gimmick or a genuine revelation?
When Brian Helgeland came to cast his new British gangster film he had a lot to consider. “Having one guy play both characters was attractive on some levels, but on another level, it could be a gimmick that sinks the movie,” he explained. The LA Confidential director decided he needed to cast Reginald Kray first, but when he met with Tom Hardy all the Mad Max star talked about was Ronald Kray. “I knew he wanted to play Ron, I wanted him to play Reggie, and at the end of the meeting, at dinner, he said, ‘I’ll play Reggie if I can play Ron’.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Both Helgeland and Hardy have acknowledged the risk they took in having the actor play both parts. The advantage of having the Krays actual looks like twins could all be for nothing if audiences couldn’t put to one side that they were seeing Tom x 2 and enjoy the movie. Thankfully, these concerns proved unfounded. With this double act Tom Hardy has cemented his position in Hollywood as a truly talented actor, and is most assuredly the best thing about an excellent, while imperfect film.
Based on the real life story of British gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Legend sees Tom Hardy bring to life the infamous twins who ran all the organised crime in London’s East End during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Ron Kray is the mentally unstable psychiatric patient with a love for violence, while Reggie is a classy, almost well-adjusted gangster in comparison. By the start of the film the brothers are already established as important names in the criminal underworld, but they’re about to hit the big time thanks to a partnership with their American equivalents in Las Vegas.
Against this backdrop of climbing the gangster ladder, Reggie meets Frances, brought to life with impressive ease by Emily Browning, who narrates the story. Audiences watch the intense and disturbing events of Legend play out through her eyes, bringing them right into the story with her. This perspective was extremely important to Helgeland, who said: “Looking down on him [Reggie Kray] is really a wrong way to do it. To be down looking up at him is also wrong. So I want to be with him, and she allows me to do that.”
One of the best things about this film is the cast. Tom Hardy and Emily Browning feel like they were made for each other, with Browning bringing a gravitas to her role that’s perhaps unexpected for the Sucker Punch actress. While Tom Hardy’s Reggie is obviously no challenge for him, you can’t help but feel impressed by his mixture of James Bond-like cool, intelligent conversation and dangerous temperament. In contrast, it’s obvious why he was so keen to play Ron, with the actor really showing his skill as the psychotic and truly terrifying criminal. You’ll find yourself wanting to be taken in by Reggie’s charisma, while tensing up every time Ron is in view, and not for one moment will you be distracted by the fact they are played by the same person.
The supporting cast are also extremely skilled. Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Taron Egerton proves he’s no problem doing supporting roles, as well as leading ones as Ronnie’s lover, while Paul Bettany takes a break from the Marvel universe to play gangster rival Charlie Richardson. Christopher Eccleston (aka Doctor Who) gives an enjoyable if underdeveloped performance as the detective out to bring the Krays down, and David Thewlis stars as the Krays’s criminal accountant, Leslie Payne. US star, Chazz Palminteri heads up the American continent with obvious ease, with Pirates Of The Caribbean’s Kevin McNally bringing Prime Minster Harold Wilson to life. Merlin’s Colin Morgan appears as Frances’s brother and the rest of the Krays’s gang lend them some East End legitimacy with their superb accents and understated acting. Even Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy turns up a couple of times during the film as the ‘60s singer Timi Yuro.
With a thrilling storyline, dream cast and award-winning director, you might have wondered what could possibly go wrong. But despite all its many positives, Legend still has a few issues – the most noticeable of which is the anti-climactic conclusion. Hands were tied due to the fact that the film is based on a true story, but after an emotional and intense lead up, full of heartbreak and violence, the final scene fell a little flat. Helgeland did his best to compensate by constructing a final showdown between the brothers, but in the end he couldn’t change history. There’s also no real sense of time passing, which means even though you witness marriages, deaths and more, you’re left wondering how long the Krays have been the Kings of the East End before it all falls apart. Finally, the film could have survived some slight trimming as it feels just slightly too long.
However, none of this can detract from what is a thoroughly entertaining film. The balance between action and story is perfect, with the moments of violence being a lot less prevalent than you might expect. It quickly becomes apparent what the Krays are capable of, and although there are certainly some spine-chilling attacks in the film, it’s the threats and violence you don’t see which audiences will find really disturbing. The brothers’ fists aren’t their only weapons either, with both Ron and Reggie spreading fear and intimidation (in the film and the audience) with words and looks alone. Ron’s scathing speech to Frances the night she and Reggie get engaged is particularly chilling and a superb example of Tom Hardy’s abilities.
Legend isn’t a cops vs gangsters action film. It isn’t even a romance about Reggie and Frances’s twisted love affair (although that does take up a significant proportion of screen time). No, it’s about two brothers and what happens when you’re so closely bonded to someone you’ll never be able to understand. In the end, the Krays downfall doesn’t come at the hands of the police or even another ambitious gangster. They make it themselves slowly but surely until everyone can see it coming except them. No-one could have pulled off this ambitious performance like Tom Hardy, and with an excellent supporting cast and gripping (almost perfect) storyline, Legend is a guaranteed hit.
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