Everyone loves a gangster flick. The Americans have a plethora to choose from. It’s debatable if Goodfellas bests The Godfather, or maybe Scarface is more your thing. British efforts are a bit more wide boy and in your face. So what happens if you take a real life British gangster crime story and turn it into a movie?
If you choose to dabble with the most famous of all British gangsters you are dealing with the Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie. The film you’ll end you with is The Krays from 1990. Hold yer horses, guv. What if we want to make the Krays fit into an Americanised biopic? Ah, should have said. Then you’ll end up 2015’s Legend.
Director Brian Helgeland is better known for his writing credits (L.A. Confidential) but did direct Payback (you may have missed that corker). He has taken the history of the most notorious London criminals and decided the truth shouldn’t get in the way of a good story. Unfortunately, the story of The Krays is good enough. Instead, his fictionalised version of events lacks direction and purpose.
Key moments, like the murders that eventually convicted the twins, are shoehorned into a story narrated by Emily Browning’s Frances Shea. Yeah, that’s right folks, the story is told from the perspective of a ghost whose real life interactions vary depending on which person’s account you believe.
It’s a shame to degrade her input when Browning’s performance is so strong. That is a running theme of the film, cracking performances hidden in a below average flick.
Christopher Eccleston, as always, proves what a versatile actor he is. His hunting as Scotland Yard’s Nipper Read deserved more screen time.
The true star of the show is Tom Hardy. So powerful and diverse are his turns as both twins, it has you believing two separate actors are playing the roles. His appearance here further underlines his place as one of the best performers of this generation.
If only the script could have given Hardy the platform he richly deserved. Instead the movie labours through cockney narration plastered onto a disingenuous wannabe Hollywood background. The result is something that could easily drift to TV movie, if not for the star power on display.
The story only charts the peak years of The Krays’ rule, from cutting deals with Las Vegas bosses to ruling London without opposition. Their downfall was portrayed as an inward problem rather than being taken bested.
Sadly, that sums up the film. It should have been the peak of the boys on camera, an all-star cast and decent budget. Instead it moves them into mediocrity. Often gangster films are criticised for glamorising the lifestyle. No such problem here. It looked pretty mundane through the eyes of Brian Helgeland.
Worth watching to enjoy Tom Hardy, but have a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku on the go for (the many) sections where the film stutters along.