Riveting Hardy performances, but skewed female point of view
The names Reggie and Ronnie Kray aren’t immediately familiar to many Americans, but it’s a different story on the other side of the pond. They’ve inspired books, songs, stage plays, and TV shows. Google “Kray Twins,” and you’ll find all manner of stories and articles. It seems everyone in England knows the Krays. Either that or they know of someone who does.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the inseparable Kray twins ran a crime empire from East End London. At the same time, the brothers were careful to project an air of public decorum. The operative word here is public.
Reggie and Ronnie always appeared dressed in expensive suits and treated women (especially their mother Violet) with great courtesy. Behind the scenes, they acted like most other gangland figures you’ve read about or seen in movies. One thing set them apart-a level of coordination between Reggie and Ronnie that bordered on the telepathic.
Brian Helgeland’s new film Legend is an adaptation of a book by John Pearson called The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall Of The Kray Twins. This is a very good film that could have been great. As is, it’s a red-hot rush, largely due to Tom Hardy’s dynamic performances as the two Krays.
Helgeland and cinematographer Dick Pope (Mr. Turner) have done an extremely good job from the technical side, often placing Hardy-as-Reggie and Hardy-as-Ronnie seamlessly within the same frame.
David Thewlis contributes a strong performance as Leslie Payne, the Kray’s beleaguered accountant and front man. Taron Egerton is quite good as Mad Teddy Smith, Ronnie’s lover. Although Emily Browning is underused as Reggie’s wife Frances, she has a couple of effective scenes with Hardy (in particular, the one where they meet).
Legend also benefits from astute musical choices by Carter Burwell (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Along with the look and sound of 1960s London, Helgeland also manages to recreate the sassy innocence of the period.
In a Q and A at the Austin Film Festival, Helgeland spoke about this film and what he hoped to convey in telling its story. He wanted to show the central conflict as a triangle involving Reggie, Frances, and Ronnie. Reggie finds himself torn between his twin and his wife.
Helgeland also mentioned doing research work in London and asking people from the Kray’s circle about Frances. Everyone seemed to give the same answer, “She was a pretty girl.” I’d guess this intrigued Helgeland and may even have led to his decision to give Frances’ character the voiceover in his script.
It’s not essential that the voiceover character be critical to the main plot line, as Helgeland’s script for LA Confidential proved. However, the character does need a distinctive voice and point of view. It also helps if the character talks about things that the character could reasonably be expected to know. In other words, don’t do a voiceover by a five-year-old child with citations from the IRS Code.
Voiceovers in the Legend script have Frances talking about the Kray’s main rivals in town, whether the casino made money, and Leslie Payne’s function in the organization. I’d be extremely surprised if Reggie told her those things or even wanted her to know them.
What’s more, voiceovers need to match the character delivering them. The character of Frances was repeatedly shown to be unfocused and nearing a breakdown. Frances in the voiceovers sounded poised throughout. The more of those voiceovers I heard, the more I disconnected from this film.
Phillip Medak’s 1990 film The Krays, while not nearly as stylish as Legend, does a much better job representing Frances’ side of the story. There you get a sense of the unending criticism and regimentation that caused the fragile young woman to unravel. In Legend, you’re only given a few hints and the major events.
Even so, Legend is a film worth seeing. You may walk into the theater unfamiliar with the Krays, but Tom Hardy will make sure you’ll never forget them.
Theme: Brothers First
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