Legend is a troubled ﬁlm. Although it is quite enjoyable on the surface, as soon as you delve underneath its ﬂashy exterior, its ﬂaws unravel in a rather proliﬁc fashion. Surface is a key word, since it’s something the ﬁlm prides itself on, and it allows the ﬁlm to get away with a lot. However, contrary to expectations of it being a critical success, Legend struggles to form any kind of connection with the viewer apart from on a surface level.
For me, problems arose immediately after I had left the cinema, and was thinking about what the ﬁlm did well and what it didn’t. I realised that I actually didn’t really like the ﬁlm as much as I thought I had. This turning point is very important since, as I will go on to criticise the ﬁlm extensively, you must understand that Legend certainly does give you your money’s worth for two hours of great entertainment. If that is what you’re after, then it shouldn’t disappoint, but if you, like me, want something more from cinema, then you might think twice. Legend is an exciting ﬁlm, but it struck me as being of no real substance or artistic ingenuity.
Much of the impression that Legend left me with can be traced back to the opening sequence. Sweeping establishing shots show oﬀ 60s London in all its glimmering glory, emphasising the impressive production design that went into realising this ﬁlm. We are also greeted by a very dry narrative voiceover, which continues to irritate throughout, from Emily Browning’s character Frances who is the focus of a large proportion of the plot. From this point on, it is obvious that we are in for a story told with the usual classical continuity style, an unimaginative formal choice that is echoed in the mediocre narrative.
The moment the camera enters the black limousine that is cruising down this street at night, we are greeted by Hardy’s sneering Kray twins. We are then told by the voiceover that these two characters, the same two who are in the poster, in the trailers and bear a striking resemblance to the Kray twins, are in fact Ronald and Reggie Kray. Who would have guessed? This piece of exceedingly superﬂuous detail is a recurring problem that plagues the script. Another point at which the writing seems terriﬁcally contrived is when it introduces the motif of lemon sherbets. While perhaps not everyone knows that lemon sherbets are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, when creating a symbolic element for a narrative, you don’t draw attention to it and even explain the symbol itself when you introduce it for the ﬁrst time. These unnecessary details weaken the ﬁlm’s integrity and even seem condescending towards the audience’s intelligence.
Although the production design and performances demonstrate glimpses of the quality on which the ﬁlm could capitalise, it seems that the ﬁlmmakers rejected these elements as opportunities to create a great piece of cinema with historical, social and political insight, and just took the route of the bland biopic that I’m sure many people are fed up with (perhaps the box oﬃce will prove me wrong). There isn’t much wrong with this formula for entertainment and, moreover, moneymaking. The problem is precisely that there isn’t much wrong with the formula. I felt like I’d seen this ﬁlm a number of times before and it’s all too easy for ﬁlmmakers to create something safe and uninspired. This is very frustrating in many cases, Legend included, and it feels unfair that people working with so much money are being so unimaginative.
Returning to the theme of the opening sequence, the Krays are sheltered from the night in their limo just as the viewers seem to be taken through a luxurious London setting, yet one we pass all too quickly through, protected from the harsh and violent reality of the lives of the twins.
I think this is no better demonstrated than early on in one of Legend’s several violent outbursts, where Ron and Reg bring knuckledusters and hammers to a pub brawl over gang turf. I found the sequence unnervingly exhilarating, since it was shot as if the Kray’s were two action heroes ﬁghting oﬀ bad guys, when really they were all as bad as each other. Fast-paced, dynamically assembled shots are set to upbeat rock music, but the sounds of Ron delivering skullcrushing blows with his hammers are very low in the mix, making the very brutal violence easier for the audience to stomach.
I have never been one concerned with violence on screen and in fact really enjoyed the ultraviolent bloodbath of a scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service earlier this year. However, Legend is not an over-stylised comic-book action movie. It wants to be a gritty biopic that gets you into the heads of its two protagonists, yet it is guilty of not really questioning their morality at all. It even avoids a scene of domestic abuse, seemingly because it wouldn’t befit the films choice to present Reggie as a dashing lover. In fact, the two characters who see through the Krays’ façade are Christopher Eccleston’s detective who is presented as bumbling and incompetent, and the mother of Frances, played by Tara Fitzgerald, who just seems crazy and irrational.
Unfortunately, Legend does nothing to undermine the legend of the Kray twins and even seems to go too far the other way in its glamourous mythologising. I believe that presenting the violence more objectively, perhaps like in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra, would help balance the ﬁlm’s portrayal of the twins, and demonstrate that the ﬁlmmakers acknowledge the reality behind the story they are telling.
Ok, not every ﬁlm turns out to be as perfect as intended, and as far as pure entertainment goes, Legend is good fun and very watchable. Tom Hardy is an incredibly talented actor and is certainly on form here, as is much of the large supporting cast who all do great jobs, albeit ones that are slightly unfulfilled given that they are undeveloped. Emily Browning is ﬁne, although there isn’t really much she can do with the script, but Hardy really is the star of the show. The bottom line of Legend is really creating a setting for Hardy to show oﬀ . Also, the double performance does make up for the fact that he didn’t really do anything in Mad Max: Fury Road. Better still, I was not at all disappointed that I saw Legend and I thought that it was a pleasant and entertaining experience, yet it remained frustrating to see something that is satisﬁed with its own mediocrity, and doesn’t try to be the best it can. It felt like it had the potential to be one of the best ﬁlms of the year, however I expect I will have forgotten about it in a month or two and that’s a real shame.
Jack Smith, Online Screen Editor