Brian Helgeland’s Legend owes more than just passing “respects” to Goodfellas. It should kneel, kiss its ring and swear to handle whatever favours are asked of it. From its use of period precise music to its narration to long take club-entering shots, Legend shoots for that Scorsese vibe and view of the intoxicating power of gangster life. It doesn’t achieve that of course (primarily due to far too many moments that are inexcusably mundane), but still manages to keep a good pace and remain mostly entertaining. And that is primarily due to two key performances: those of Tom Hardy and also Tom Hardy.
Legend covers the rise and reign of the Kray brothers – the legendary gangster twin siblings who grew up in London’s East End. As the film opens, the pair are already local celebrities who ingratiate themselves with the neighbourhood while also running protection rackets and a few nightclubs. Reggie has business sense and can put things into context, but can also suddenly “lose his temper”. As violent as he can be, it feels controlled and with purpose. His brother Ron, however, is all instinct, fight first and ask questions never. He feels that when in doubt, it’s always best to stir things up. He doesn’t easily mix in with general society, though has no issues in openly proclaiming his bisexuality even though the film takes place during the 50s-60s. He begins the film in an asylum, but is released after a little “convincing” of his doctor by Reggie. Clearly no one believes he is in his right mind due to his appetite for mayhem, but Reggie wants/needs him out – they’re brothers after all. Though Reggie wrestles with it occasionally, Ron always wins the competition for Reggie’s allegiance – a battle fought more often after Reggie marries the beautiful young Frances (Emily Browning with a fantastic supporting performance by her cheekbones). Though not necessarily looking to give up “the life”, Reggie does somewhat long to simply run his new club in the West End. It’s profitable, the rich & famous drop by and it’s a sign that they have moved towards conquering all of London and acquiring that broader respect. Of course, that doesn’t fit with Ron’s plans and he actively destroys the regular clientele when Reggie has to do a short spell in prison.