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Film review: Legend – Tom Hardy plays Ronnie and Reggie Kray in cartoonish gangster bio

Director Brian Helgeland gets a lot wrong in this production - reducing the London gangland twins’ mother to a caricature and veering wildly between tragedy and comedy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 4:45pm

At least they got the title right: Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the gangster kingpins that ruled London’s East End during the 1960s, were legends. Better known for penning the script for Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential, director Brian Helgeland’s feature film sets out to tell their story, with the added twist that Tom Hardy is playing both Kray twins.

The British star has been down this back alley before – playing the pumped-up real-life criminal in 2008’s Bronson. But while that was a surreal, kaleidoscopic view into the mind of a disturbed individual, Legend is a strait-laced bio that veers wildly between the comic and the tragic.

Helgeland’s attempt to take on the Krays is littered with poor decisions. Relegating the vital figure of the Krays’ mother, Violet, to a cameo caricature is one. Another is narrating the film through Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the naïve innocent who became Reggie’s wife at the age of 16 before self-medicating with pills took a toll on her sanity.

SEE ALSO: Like doing a hard Sudoku: Tom Hardy on playing gangland twins the Krays in new biopic

The support cast is the best of British: Paul Bettany as rival gangster Charlie Richardson, David Thewlis as the Krays’ business manager Leslie Payne and Christopher Ecclestone as the cop looking to bring them down. Hardy is also impressive, switching between Reggie and the more unhinged Ronnie in the flick of a blade.

But Helgeland’s film falls way short compared to Peter Medak’s 1990 film The Krays, which elevated their story to an almost poetic level. Next to it, Legend feels like a cartoon.

Legend opens on December 10