Legend is the latest in a long line of British crime films…ah you know what, I can’t be bothered. Either you already know what this film is about or you can just look it up on Wikipedia or watch the trailer. Well, normally it would be a good idea to watch the trailer but not in this case. The trailer for Legend is only representative of the first half of this film, in that this is a tongue-in-cheek, fun, beat-em-up, gangster biopic up until the halfway mark. After which, this story becomes much more dramatic and the entire feel of this film changes. It’s almost as if Brian Helgeland handed over the reins to some different director/writer halfway into the production. Fortunately, both parts are as equally as enjoyable as their respective counterparts, it just felt a little jarring.
I don’t think I can go on much further without talking about the acting in Legend. Tom Hardy, yet again tops himself in this/these performance/s and really this movie should have been retitled, “The Tom Hardy Variety Hour”. Funny, charming, menacing, intelligent, simple, calculating, suave, scary, any of those words could be used to describe the Kray Twins in Legend. In every scene, it is instantly obvious which twin you are watching regardless of makeup and costume. As Ronnie, Hardy hunches up his back, drops his lip and creates the image of a man that is smarter than he looks. Whereas Reggie is pure confidence, he walks around London like he owns the place and you could put in a convincing argument that he really does.
Emily Browning’s performance as Frances Shea really sneaks up on you, up until her last few scenes I was prepared to dismiss her acting as nothing much more than average. That was until I realised that she has let her character subtly grow and mature throughout the entire story. Not to mention, that she is Australian, a fact I was unaware of until I did some late night googling. One final notable mention is Taran Egerton who delivers a much more interesting character than his one from Kingsman. His character, Mad Teddy is crazy with a hint of hilarity and charming with a splash of stupidity. Apart from these three, the rest of the cast is nothing special. Convincing but not amazing, even Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read is nothing to shout about.
My one rule for biopics is that the facts can only be changed if it improves on the story, a rule that Legend manages to follow very nicely. All the changes to the plot add to the drama and charm of this film, i.e. Ronnie’s sexuality has been changed from bisexual to homosexual and the entire family’s mistreatment of Frances. I must stress that I haven’t read the book that this movie was based on so I’m not sure whether the changes were first made there but it seems irresponsible to tell falsehoods in a nonfiction book. As I said before, the first half of this film is a lot different than the final half and in some ways it was a bit weird. Not good, not bad, just weird. This may only be me but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something a little bit odd that I can’t quite explain.
If you are going to see this movie for the East London gangster knees-up then you might want to reconsider your choice of movie. Legend definitely has gangster elements and overall it is a British gangster film but the main focus is on the Krays’ personal lives, Reggie in particular. Don’t let that worry you violence fans because Legend is violent from A to Z and the choreography in these scenes is both impressive and a little bit unnerving. Laughter fans should also be happy with the joke count; Legend can be absolutely hilarious at times. Reggie and his crew are promoted to comic relief when the script calls for it and for the most part, these jokes are corkers. A few of the jokes fell a little bit flat to me but I’m a tough crowd when it comes to humour. Just outside the actual film for the moment and the marketing team deserve a very shifty handshake for this sneaky and misleading poster which makes The Guardian’s two star review seem like a much more positive score.
As far as I can see, there was no real need for the narration. This film could have worked just as well without it and a more cynical person than I would write that off as lazy storytelling. It didn’t necessarily bother me as I’m generally a sucker for narration and some of the dialogue given to Emily Browning for the narration was quite beautiful. The only real nit-pick I have with Legend lies with the score. On the whole the music was fine but there were a few scenes where it was too loud, making it a little hard to hear the actors’ lines. Most notably, the scene of Reggie’s first date with Francis, where the music was not only too loud but rather unsuited to the drama playing out on the screen.
In summary (my year 12 English teach would be very proud), Legend is a pretty good way to spend the afternoon. I don’t see this movie going down in history as any kind of legend (there it is, you’ve been waiting for that terrible joke this whole article and I hope it was worth it) but I would say it is worth a re-watch or two. Three stellar performances from Hardy, Browning and Egerton topped off by some clever gags and gripping drama. Also, as all good biopics or historical films go, it is a very fun way to learn about history and not that we should be celebrating these two horrible men, there is no denying that they have a pretty interesting story. When you have a story as interesting as this, it’s important to make sure that you don’t butcher the tale and I think it’s fair to say that Brian Helgeland has even made this story more interesting. Legend is a much deserved four out of five stars.