This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, October 2015
They say if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. But for those who grew up anywhere near the East End of London, the indelible impression cast by the Kray twins will never fade, and sixty years on the folklore around these most vicious of sharply-suited gangsters provides an addictive hit of cinematic adrenalin.
Tom Hardy was paid two salaries for his work on the film – unusual practice in the industry but he certainly earns every penny. Far from simply slicking his hair a different way, Hardy’s performances as Reggie (deceptively sweet) and Ronnie (undeniably psychopathic) are so distinct, he must have worked tirelessly to ensure he was employing the correct gait, vocal lilt and mannerisms for each take.
Legend acts as a bi-biopic, charting the brothers’ ascent through the criminal underworld from the point-of-view of Reggie’s wife, Frances (Emily Browning from Sucker Punch) whose voiceover is at times slightly vapid yet necessary to tell the tale. Everyone in the British acting fraternity contributes a cameo, including Christopher Eccleston and a reconstituted Paul Bettany as real-life adversaries of the Krays, though the most surprising face is that of Taron Egerton, (Eggsy from Kingsman), who plays Ronnie’s young gay lover with aplomb.
Aesthetically, the film is a delight to behold – look past the blood splatters to the period-perfect wallpaper and tea cups; listen through the crunch of fist on skull to the chirpy soundtrack which accompanies the Krays’ tit-for-tat against their foes. In narrative, Legend evokes a very British Goodfellas, with Ronnie the disturbingly erratic Joe Pesci and Reggie the smoothly sinister Ray Liotta. Similarly, in both movies the men head home to mum’s when things go awry, here to be offered cake and a cup of tea to salve their ills.
Director Brian Helgeland is also an accomplished screenwriter (Mystic River, LA Confidential) who has adapted John Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence” into a dazzling two hours of outrageous behaviour and intoxicating savagery. We may be half a century on, but it’s clear this stuff never gets old.