Brian Helgeland's stylish gangster film Legend has a lot going for it - but it falls a little short of attaining true greatness through a needlessly winding narrative and misguided messaging.
Charting the rise and fall of notorious British twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy), Legend is a stylish and slick gangster film that Anglophiles will lap up. Set against the beautifully recreated backdrop of 50's and 60's London, this film follows the twins as they strong-arm their way to the top of the food chain; the Kray's particular brand of intimidation and extortion made them household names across London during the era, and for many, the Kray Twins signify the Swinging Sixties just as much as the Beatles, Mini Coopers and Stirling Moss.
Actors have played identical twins in dual roles before - Armie Hammer in The Social Network is a great example - but usually these roles are kept to a minimum. They're tricky to get right and sometimes the effect can feel almost comedic, kind of like those episodes of Friends where Lisa Kudrow plays both Phoebe and her twin sister Urusla.
That being said, the effect is anything but comedic in Legend as Hardy's dual performance is astoundingly good. Not only does the film place him in almost every scene, he's more often than not acting against himself (through the magic of film and CGI of course). He takes two distinctly different characters and makes both feel fleshed out and separate from one another, despite the obvious physical similarities. If you're worried about not being able to tell Ronnie from Reggie (and visa versa), don't - they couldn't be more different.
Reggie is a smooth-talking and charismatic gangster who enjoys living the high-life; rubbing shoulders with celebs and politicians in his back alley clubs and casinos, Reggie's suave style is undercut by his determined and uncompromising nature, a trait that usually gets him everything he asked for.
On the other hand, Ronnie is openly homosexual and suffering with psychological issues like paranoid schizophrenia. Unable to express himself in the same way that Reggie can, Ronnie relies on extreme violence to get his point across - usually with tragic results. Hardy hits the nail on the head with both of his characters - in fact, he's so compelling that I found myself forgetting that he was playing both.
The film is mostly told through the eyes of Frances (Emily Browning), Reggie's long-suffering wife. Browning gives a fantastic performance and her soft narration provides the emotional backbone to the film. However, Helgeland's eagerness to place the film amongst the 'Cool Britannia' motif means the gratuitous violence and crime is often underscored by this sense of glamour. As the film drives a wedge between Ronnie and Reggie, we're encouraged to side with the latter, even though he's a cruel, wife-beating mobster who has let power get to his head.
It's not detrimental to the film, but the messaging did feel kind of off; the film arrives at the inevitable Scarface moment where everything comes tumbling down too late in the game, and everything that precedes it has this cheeky swagger that didn't mesh with the more adult aspects of the story.
The strong supporting cast is like a 'best of British'; you've got Colin Morgan (Merlin, Humans), Christopher Ecclestone (Doctor Who), David Thewlis (Harry Potter series) and Taron Egerton (Kingsman) all putting in an appearance, with the latter two making the biggest impression on proceedings.
The Verdict: 6.5/10
Legend doesn't lack style, but the story leaves a little to be desired. The generic gangster framework still leaves plenty of room for Hardy to flex his acting muscle; it's just a shame the rest of the film can't live up to its namesake.
Legend is in cinemas across Australia now.