Watching Legend – a story about infamous London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray – made me wonder what motivations the director had to illustrate a chronological period of real-life gangsters of 1960’s London.
Without doing necessary background research into the actual words of the film’s crew, I came up with my own suggestion that would hopefully match the truth. (It kind of did. Via Wikipedia: ‘Helgeland said the film would concentrate on Reggie’s attempts to control the psychopathic tendencies of his younger twin.’) I thought the most obvious choice would be to show the humanity behind the actions of monsters. Film-makers love doing this. The film wants to elaborate on much more than what the typical civilian has read about the Kray twins, it attempts to do this through moving pictures and Tom Hardy’s excellence. Furthermore, this notion of ‘humanity’- whilst its meaning can be controversial and ambiguous – takes little effort once matched with the Peggy Mitchell loyalty of “faaaamily”.
The distinction between family movies and movies about family is that the Family Movie has some resolution. There’s a conflict when you think the family’s not going to survive as a unit that is overall and strong – then the resolution where we realise the family is a comfortable setting to be. The family movie is rated either PG or U for Universal (anyone can watch it!) they’re connotative with the idea of ‘feeling good’ or ‘feeling warm’. Legend isn’t a Family Movie obviously, it is a very real look at the conflicts of ‘unconditional’ love. Legend would rather leave you with a cold reaction. Sure, you MIGHT feel warm recognising the brothers’ bond but otherwise, these were terrible people and its more horrifying to sympathise with these characters despite their shortcomings.
Legend examines the fragility of the family, concentrating on the specificity of twin brothers. The whole movie is about the twins’ relationship and the obstacles that they are forced to confront such as wives, the police and fancy American businessmen. They fight each other twice and during the first time, you can’t stop watching. It is more magnificent than that scene in Matrix Revolutions where a 7 or so minute long rainfall is the backing track to a restless Neo fighting his enemy -and that’s saying something! This particular fight scene in Legend is just as heavy and descriptive. It’s an astounding watch upon the realisation that these two are twin brothers – minus the fact it is Tom Hardy literally fighting himself – tearing pieces off each other like animals and reminding us that brotherhood isn’t all that, really. Fighting is a natural instinct for these boys and the fights here – although minus weapons – are just like the fights they have with their other rivals. So it is not a case of ‘there is a fine line between love and hate’ and how fighting equals passion. Both are left bruised but it is Ronald that suffers the most, both in the fight and upon completion of the entire movie. Not to ignore the terms of a heterosexual white masculinity convinced that violence is second nature, but violence isn’t that significant when it comes to family for the Krays – it’s just a normality!
The film is narrated by Reggie Kray’s wife, played by Emily Browning, which seemed like a promising choice. Except – her voice fell flat and it was clear this movie was not about her, despite her ghostly narration pointing us to the horror of experiencing the Kray twins in real life. A reason why this movie is bad – they got the narrating thing all wrong. If you’re making a woman the narrator of your movie about two depraved criminals, make her role significant and well, powerful. Without being too presumptuous, I just felt that this was not her outlook. Like of course they showed her side of the story, how her relationship was high and then super, super low but the choice to have her narrate felt futile and made me frustrated. Upon leaving the cinema, my verbal verdict was “what a terrible movie, every character is terrible”
BECAUSE – Every character IS terrible. The writing is OK. Tom Hardy does what he can – it’s more like he looked at his acting spectrum of excellence and went about half-way, occasionally going to burst the thermometer when in the role of the more exuberant twin Ron. Exuberant feels redundant when the one thing driving Ron to do what he does is his mental illness which is heavily hinted at as an explanation. It made me uncomfortable when others in the cinema laughed at Ron’s extrovert displays of homosexuality and violence. They do realise they’re laughing at mental illness, right? I’m not sure if this was the goal of the director – to have the fatter and more uglier twin to be a light source of humour. Boxes of pills and a psychiatrist meeting are visual reminders of where his mind is at but it was not enough! A much fuller look at the specifics of his mental illness would have been provocative and it would have helped director to succeed his goal of showing this. Tom Hardy wearing dentures and carrying guns on each side of his cloak was a delight because it was so shocking. But after a while, the violence became so common and less gorgeous.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to criticise a film based on real people and real HARROWING events because maybe the Kray family is the only one that can determine whether they did a good job. As someone that loves writing about movies extensively, I would say that Legend obviously worked really well to present Hardy in this dual role (ESPECIALLY IN THAT FIGHT SCENE) it really involved the audience by doing this and it transcended the usual watching of a movie because Hardy’s dual role is such an intricate thing to do so you really really do pay attention even more. Movement is super important in this movie not only physical movement forcing us to truly observe every action but in terms of the characters’ intentions, how one brother is supposedly more’stable’ than the other and the decisions they make. Like, why do we like seeing honest portrayals of family loyalty and how difficult it is?! Reggie battles his devotion to his brother and his wife and it’s sometimes shocking to believe the lengths of their crimes. Heroes and villains, good and bad become distinctively blurred that eventually you realise, just like I did: they’re all terrible.