Director: Brian Helgeland (2015)
This barnstorming biopic of cockney crime lords the Krays is a double barrelled blast of brutal and funny entertainment.
The exhausted tale of London’s most infamous gangsters is given a fresh impetus by a pair of magnetic performances by Tom Hardy as twins Reggie and Ronnie.
So well defined are their characters at times I forgot I was watching the same actor.
London is in transition from fifties post war austerity to the swinging sixties. The Krays see an opportunity to expand from their poor East end roots to the moneyed lights of the celebrity-filled West end.
We see their rise through the eyes of Reggie’s wife Frances. Their mother who normally looms large in their legend is a minor figure.
The script rockets through the boys’ rivalries with the Richardson mob, their dealings with the mafia and the murder of Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie.
Reggie is the older of the brothers, a charmer with brains. He’s an ambitiously ruthless businessman who owns clubs, runs protection rackets and wants to break into the casino trade.
Ron is a philosopher fool with fists of iron. His tenuous grasp of reality and impulsive behaviour are disastrous for those nearest to him.
Though unquestionably devoted to each other, the nearest the boys come to affection is beating seven bells out of each other.
Their fall is framed as a tragedy with Greek references peppering conversations.
Reggie is seemingly destined for great things but is thwarted by his love for his brother Ronnie; the most unpredictable of loose cannons.
Frances is a fragile pill-popping poppet who struggles as her husband fails to become the straight businessman he professes he wants to be.
Ozzie actress Emily Browning is fine but forced to deliver a terribly written and utterly unnecessary voice over. It ruins every scene it witters over.
Tara Fitzgerald plays her disapproving mother and antagonises Reggie by wearing black to their wedding.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson is played with pipe-wielding gusto by Kevin McNally. Christopher Eccleston is always two steps behind as Keystone cop Detective Superintendent ‘Nipper’ Read.
There’s great support all round from Colin Morgan, David Thewlis, Paul Anderson, Taron Egerton and Chazz Palminteri. The latter plays Angelo Bruno, the head of the Philadelphia crime family with whom the twins strike a lucrative deal.
The occasionally larky tone may chafe with those who believe it inappropriate in a story where real people are murdered.
However it’s titled Legend for a reason. It makes no attempt to be definitive or exhaustingly accurate. Nor does it offer an apology for not being so.
It presents a glamourised, heightened view of a specific period and is anchored by the emotional truth it offers of the twins’ complex relationship.
Write-director Brian Helgeland won Best Screenplay Oscar for LA Confidential (1997), more recently he wrote Ridley Scott‘s Robin Hood and Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone. (Both 2010.)
Previously he directed Mel Gibson in the thriller Payback (1999) and baseball biopic 42 (2013).
Legend is extremely confident and ambitiously crafted. There is excellent production design by Tom Conroy and gorgeous costume by Caroline Harris.
The dynamic soundtrack and expertly executed camera moves are hugely influenced by Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic Goodfellas (1990).
HIs famous Copacabana tracking shot is transplanted to Frances’s introduction to Reggie’s club. It’s one of several ambitious and expertly executed camera moves.
It’s the work Brit cinematographer Dick Pope was Oscar nominated last year for Mr Tuner and is a regular Mike Leigh collaborator.
Hardy is currently 3 to 1 to be the next James Bond, but on this showing he might just be too good an actor.