In this “notorious true story of the Kray twins” — the gangster brothers who briefly fancied themselves as kings of London in the ’60s — the knockout punch isn’t dealt by Tom Hardy raised to the power 2. It is the Kray mother (Jane Wood) in her bedraggled nightgown, mousey hair, wrinkled cleavage, and a firm grip passing along cups of tea.
Stroking the hair of Ronnie Kray (Hardy), who has just returned after killing someone, she tells twin Reggie (Hardy), sitting some distance away, with a steely smile, “He is your brother.”
That one scene establishes why the charismatic, smart and brutal Reggie will never be able to break way from the schizophrenic, unstable and dangerous Ronnie. It’s sad that Helgeland, the Oscar award-winning screenwriter of L A Confidential, doesn’t think of making more of the excellent Wood.
Instead, it falls on Hardy’s hardy shoulders to convey the ties that bind and will unravel the Kray brothers. It’s a valiant effort no doubt, with Reggie and Ronnie two distinct people, even physically. However, but for that one scene with Wood, we have no idea how and where that bond was forged.
The only other actor with a role in their lives in the film is Emily Browning, playing Reggie’s wife Frances. As also the narrator of this story, she assumes this air of distance that is in no way justified by her arc in the role. It’s a very unsatisfying performance, with the reasons for her falling for Reggie clear but her growing disillusionment with him pretty forced.
Legend spends an inexplicable amount of time on that relationship, inter-cut by the Krays’ expanding business. Both Reggie’s growing love for Frances and his desire for acceptability as a legitimate businessman don’t go down well with Ronnie, who keeps repeating that all he wants to be is a “genuine gangster”.
The time spent on Frances drags Legend down, as does Helgeland’s determination to establish the genuine period nature of his film with his string of lovingly dressed men and women (none better than the hunky Hardy), sitting in clubs with great live music, and gloriously shot violence. The only signs of palpable tension as Reggie and Ronnie move from their second-rung gangster status in East End to the “greener pastures of West London” are, after all, between the brothers themselves. If there are not enough of those scenes, there are even lesser of Ronnie, the man perpetually on the cusp of madness — even if it is just revealing his gay status to a stunned American counterpart (Chazz Palminteri), or talking about the Utopian town he hopes to build in Nigeria.
An applause here for the young Taron Egerton too, as Ronnie’s toy boy who plays no mean role in pushing him to the edge.
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Legend cast: Tom Hardy, Christopher Eccleston, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Jane Wood