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LEGEND (UK 2015) ****
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Review by Gilbert Seah
The second film about the notorious Krays, (the first was called THE KRAYS in the 80’s directed by Peter Medak) the gangster twins that terrorized London the 50’s and 60’s is given a glossier more modern approach. But just as violent. The Kray twins in LEGEND are both played by Tom Hardy.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL his best film) and based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson, the film is told from the point of view as well as narrated by Frances Shea (Emily Browning) the wife of Reggie Kray. She met Kray at 16 and married him aged 22 in 1965 . She committed suicide in 1967, and narrates the film from beyond the grave. “It took a lot of love to hate him the way I did,” were her famous words.
When the film begins, the Krays are already established gangster princes. The script does not detail how they got to be such prominent gangsters except by having them usurp the turf from Charlie (Paul Bettany) and his brother Eddie, childhood friends of the Krays and the leaders of notorious south London gang (also known as the Torture Gang). That was when Reggie met Frances. The film that goes on to deal with the further rise and fall of the Kray twins; the relationship that bound them together, and charts their gruesome career to their downfall and imprisonment for life in 1969. And all from Frances’ angle.
LEGEND is necessarily violent. The best segment is the well executed fight between the two brothers (made trickier to shoot as both brothers are portrayed by the same actor) which is guaranteed to make you cringe in your seat.
The script is set up to have the audience take the side of Reggie, the sane brother. The other, who is ultra violent and homosexual and certified insane not once but twice is the script’s set up for the downfall of the Kray’s empire.
Hardy does an exceptional job playing the Krays, definitely proving to be Oscar material here. He creates two very different characters in the Krays, one sane and the other insane. Though the film uses the tactic of Ronnie’s glasses to distinguish the twins apart, Hardy creates different nuanced behaviour for each. Of the other performances, David Thewlis stands out as the Krays business and lawyer connection who wants to make the business more legitimate, thus running foul with Ronnie.
Ronnie’s homosexuality is treated in the film with campy seriousness. He justifies his gay sexual acts by claiming to be the giver and not the taker. One difference between the two KRAY films is that Medak’s dwelt on the Kray’s doting mother’s influence, the mother played by Billie Whitelaw in THE KRAYS.
The 50’s and 60’s London atmosphere is effectively created, complete with the period posh suits, vehicles and Burt Bacharach songs like ‘The Look of Love’.
Hard to fault, LEGEND belongs to the genre of excellent British crime thrillers of the 70’s that used to be popular.
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