Movie Review: Legend


When you find yourself suddenly feeling protective and sympathetic for mob bosses and gangsters in films, it definitely is for reasons other than their violence and crime. In Legend, you don’t get to see much of the beatings and gore that Ronald and Reginald Kray (both played expertly by Tom Hardy) were known for. Instead you’ve got the immense and moving brotherhood and loyalty between them. Legend is a man’s emotional flick.

Of course, if you didn’t grow up remotely near the 1960s or London, the real Kray brothers are likely less familiar to you than the Beatles, the groovy, swinging 60s scene depicted in films like the Austin Powers series or the sophisticated MI6 spy missions from the James Bond series. Unlike Power’s or Bond’s villains, the twins didn’t have world dominion in mind. No, they were content to simply rule London through their notorious gang- The Firm.

Based on their well-documented story, told in another 2 films and a book before this, Legend traces the Kray’s working-class beginnings in London’s East End. The cockney duo expands and takes over the reins of racketeering, protecting and gambling in the South End from the Torture Gang, after their rivals are raided and shut down by Scotland Yard.


What follows is 12 years of violent organized crime with protection rackets, fraud and arson (although very little blood is actually shed on film). The ruthless nightclub owners assert their dominance over London, even acquiring a veneer of respectability by socializing with friends in high places – politicians and celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Diana Dors. And amid the assaults and shady frauds, Ronnie still finds the time to marry his sweetheart Frances Shea (Emily Browning), though the marriage quickly grows strained with Ronnie never being home, thanks to his love for his less than legal work.

However Reggie’s paranoia and schizophrenia eventually leads to the downfall of The Firm when he forces the hand of their business manager, Leslie Payne (David Thewlis), who then decides to spill the beans on their illegal misdeeds to the Yard. This confession prompts an investigation that ends in their being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

We must commend Tom Hardy for his phenomenal turn as the twins. Already convincing as the outlaw, Forrest Bondurant, in Lawless, the English actor deserves the label of legend for his deft portrayal of both the logical and fiercely loyal Reggie and the violent and mentally unstable Ronnie. It’s great to see Hardy (who’s won both a BAFTA and LA Film Critics Association Award for his acting in Inception and Locke respectively) as a prominent lead after not seeing much of his Max Rockantansy in Mad Max: Fury Road.


Though overly cartoonish and definitely exaggerated from that of the real Kray Twins, Hardy’s cocky gait and violent charm places Reginald as the brains of The Firm while his bulging-eyed million-mile gaze and permanent protruding-jaw pout empowers Ronnie to be raw and all too threatening. It’s too easy to get drawn into aura of the Krays in Hardy’s hands.

But we were most impressed with the emotions and conflict between the twins that Legend was able to portray on the silver screen. Though it’s no longer rare for Hollywood to do “touchy-feely” films of men and brotherhood, with films like American Heist or The Tree of Life; it’s been awhile since a film has made us live through the turmoil of such a strong relationship. In the same vein of criminal loyalty, we have to say certain aspects of Legend reminded us of the legendary Godfather series, even if only in caricature with a noted lack of actual on screen violence (the bar fight scene is masterfully directed though).



Watching Legend, you’re treated to the inner conflicts of Reginald as he tries to control and understand his increasingly irate older twin. Blood may be thicker than water but it doesn’t stop the twins from shedding each other’s blood when they come to blows whether over the loyalty of their business manager or Ronnie’s aversion to getting his hands dirty. It’s a show of the kind of fire that forges the strongest brotherhood and what types of tests create the staunchest loyalties.

And of course, Legend is a pretty (and pretty badass) film, with a similar but more vibrantly colorful adaptation of Black Mass’s aesthetic, even though they are decades apart historically. Taking place during the swinging 60s, Legend flaunts the bright hues and opulent lifestyles at the classy clubs, which make for an even greater contrast to the dark underbelly of crime, the sleazy mobsters in run down pubs.

Our main gripe with Legend is that we didn’t get more of it. The pacing would slow to a crawl suddenly at times, like a worn record that’s been belting out groovy tunes without rest. In particular, Frances’s spiral into suicide and Reggie’s reactions are particularly draggy, though still powerful. They could have fit more in if pacing was more consistent with the preppy beats of the 60s soundtrack by Carter Burwell.


But we think that Legend cautions people too, amid the brashness, swearing and punching. More than warning that crime doesn’t pay, it gives a very poignant example that what limits man is often what he imposes on himself.

Strictly sticking to his loyalties of blood over his usual logic, Reginald is eventually brought low by the machinations of Ronald. But Legend, in lionizing Reggie especially, insists that to be a real man is to stick to what matters to you, and that it’s fine as long as what defines you is what you care about, like how Reginald’s brotherhood defined him. The effort alone shows a man’s or any person’s conviction and begets respect, though the filmmaker drives that home, it certainly doesn’t excuse any evils done.

Legend has taken plenty of creative liberty with the story of the Kray Twins so it’s not really the biopic that director Brian Helgeland, better known for his scripting of L.A. Confidential, intended. Nor is it going to be a British gangland classic like The Long Good Friday. But even if it’s slightly over-sold by its marketing, it’s still a very watchable and enthralling tale of men, their bonds, convictions and choices.

[xrr rating=4/5 display_as=textstars label=”Our Rating:”]



Release Date: 12 November 2015

Runtime: 131 minutes

Language: English

Rating: M18

Genre: Crime, Biography, Thriller

Director: John Wells

Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Duffy, Christopher Ecceleston, Chazz Palminteri

Photos courtesy of Shaw