2015 / Director. Brian Helgeland.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
The Kray twins, Ron and Reggie, are in a matter of speaking, British Underworld Royalty. A duo that were the scourge of London's East End through the 1960s, they were as famous for rubbing shoulders with celebrities as they were for their ruthlessness. Their time ruling the streets was all pubs, clubs and Chelsea Smiles so it's surprising they haven't been the subject of more films (let's face it, less deserving criminals have been over-saturated in movie takes, even the Essex Range Rover murders now have half a dozen filmic outings thus far).
British director Peter Medak once tackled their rise to power in his film, THE KRAYS in 1990 starring the Kemp twins, Gary and Ross, and to his credit Medak's film has aged surprisingly well. A handsomely mounted, gritty take on the brothers life that focussed on the overbearing matriarchal influence they had in their life.
So now, 25yrs after Medak's outing The Krays are on the silver screen once again, this time curiously brought to life by an American, helmer Brian (LA Confidential) Helgeland. Replacing Spandu Ballet's Kemp twins is Tom Hardy as the suave and sharp Reggie Kray and Tom Hardy as the unhinged and unpredictable Ronnie Kray. To say Tom Hardy is perhaps the most talented and exciting actor to rise in the last 10yrs has almost become passé. Project after project he has proven to have more talent in his broken right pinky that other thesps could wish to have in a thousand lifetimes.
Even when the film falls by the wayside he rises to become the lynchpin that saves it from complete disaster so, then, chalk up his turn in Legend as a knock-em-dead gift from the acting gods. His portrayal of both twins is something to be marveled, even if it lacks much nuance or subtlety. There's a clear line where Ronnie stops and Reggie starts and, at times, when he's arguing with himself its easy to forget we're being duped by special effects. It is not, however, a performance for the ages, merely one for a Saturday night. His Ronnie is borderline comical at times, but Hardy is savvy enough to know where the line is and toes it without ever really taking a leap.
Spinning his tale through the 60s, Helgeland's Legend used Ronnie's blossoming relationship with local girl Frances Shae (Emily Browning) as a framework for the brothers rise and demise. As Ronnie and Frances' lives become more entwined, so too does the brothers criminal escapades. The drama comes in the form of toppled bosses (the smarmy Paul Bettany) emerging allegiances from across the pond (reliable mafioso Chazz Palminteri) the police (upright Christopher Eccleston), an honest accountant (moustached David Thewlis) and the twins own fracturing relationship.
Browning does alright as the innocent that is gradually exposed to the life of a hard-core criminal's spouse. Her frayed patience and jangled nerves reaching crisis in the rain is impressive, particularly since it's two Tom Hardy's she's up against. This is not, however, the gangster film some may think it sets itself up to be. A hard-core, balls-to-the-wall recount of THE KRAYS would have been fun, but instead Helgeland gives us the Krays by way of Guy Richie-lite. His take is a glistening, gleaming immaculate reconstruction of swinging 60s London full of jaunty banter, black humour and plenty of tongues planted firmly in cheeks. The streets are always clean, the suits are always pressed, cars are brand new and everything looks like it was bought yesterday. That may not sit well with some, but this is, after all, the Legend of The Krays, not the facts and Helgeland doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good yarn.