Talk about your double trouble.
Twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray are flat-out gangsters—brass knuckles and all. After spending most of their childhood beating each other up (the real life Reggie nearly killed Ronnie when they were kids), they decided to turn their collective rage on London, founding a fearsome mob called the Firm. And in the 1960s, as James Bond, The Beatles and “Swinging London” seemed to rule the world, the Krays ruled London with a bloody, smirking swagger.
Reggie’s the more refined of the two, what with his tailored tuxedos and penchant for owning high-end dinner clubs. He enjoys pressing the flesh almost as much as he likes bloodying it, and if he ran for office in the East End, he might just win. He’s as much a celebrity as a crook, schmoozing with A-list entertainers and shaking hands with England’s upper crust. The island’s aristocracy—both official and unofficial—seem to enjoy a brush with danger … as long as it’s not lethal.
So that aristocracy gives Ronnie a wider berth. If Reggie’s favorite sounds are clinking glasses and smooth jazz, Ronnie prefers the sound of snapping bones. This Kray is Kray-zee, and everyone knows it. It’s only through the Firm’s influence that Ronnie hasn’t been fitted with a straightjacket and locked up for good. And there are times when brother Reggie probably wishes he was.
But, hey, you don’t send away your own twin brother, do you?
It’s into this rarified-if-poisonous air that young Frances Shea steps. She’s unquestionably a flower—a vision of beauty in the gritty East End. Reggie takes a shine to her. He brings her flowers, shares candies with her, woos her with his schoolboy charm. And while Frances’ mother is horrified, and even her brother (who drives Reggie’s car) disapproves, Frances is won over. She loves this gregarious guy.
She only has one request: That Reggie go straight.
And while there’s a part of Reggie that might like to—for Frances’ sake, and maybe even for his own—that’s not so easy to do. Not with crime being the family business and all.
“Life is not always the way we’d like it to be,” he tells her.
I suppose there’s something to be said for Ronnie's and Reggie’s loyalty to each other. They may disagree. They may fight. But they do, curiously, love each other. When the Krays’ American mob partner suggests that something should really be done about Ronnie—the implication being that he should leave the business (ahem) permanently, Reggie refuses. “I can’t do that,” Reggie says. “We’re brothers.”
We’re reaching pretty low when we’re labeling one brother’s refusal to kill another as a “positive,” so let’s turn to another family, shall we?
The Sheas aren’t all that upstanding, either, but they have a certain morality that the Krays seem to lack. Frances pleads with Reggie to leave his life of crime, and for a while she gets her wish. Her mother tries to dissuade her from getting involved with the Krays at all—even going so far as to wear black to Frances and Reggie’s wedding. And when that marriage goes awry, Frances’ brother, Frank, does probably the single bravest thing in this movie: He allows Frances to live with him. And when Reggie comes by to win her back, Frank tells this man he knows is not a guy to be crossed that he can’t see her. (Frances eventually comes to the door herself, but that doesn’t diminish Frank’s bravery and selflessness.)
Frances and Reggie get married in a church, with the minister expressing hope that the two will, through their actions, reflect God’s glory. In narration mode, Frances talks about how she doesn't think God lets us choose our own lives. There’s a suggestion that a suicide is approved of by God since it allows the victim to experience "peace." Ronnie suggests that he and Frances can see the future.
”I’m a homosexual, Frances,” Ronnie tells her when they first meet. He believes it’s important to be completely forthright about who he is (which may explain his violent streak, too). He’s sometimes derogatorily called a “pouf.”
The brothers try to convince a prominent British lord to invest in Ronnie’s dream of building a utopian city in Nigeria, bringing Ronnie’s friend (and presumed lover) Crazy Teddy along. The lord makes a crude pass at Teddy, and thus gets himself invited to one of Ronnie’s “parties,” wherein we see a bevy of men hang out—intimately—with other men. Ronnie spends this party watching gay porn (audiences see two naked men wrestling on a bed) as he swats the backside of a bound and mostly-naked man with a paddle.
Women wear gowns that reveal cleavage. Scantily clad dancers writhe and twist. After getting rained on, Frances strips off wet clothes, revealing her equally wet underwear.
An altercation between a man and woman escalates into a rape. We see the woman in her underwear and the man begin forcing her into a sexual position.
Underground London (not to be confused with the London Underground) is a very violent place, and arguably the Krays are not the worst of the lot. Early on, the Firm’s main rival is the Richardson Gang, also known as the Torture Gang. We see its members at work in a kangaroo court, wherein a man hangs upside down as he’s being punched in the face by the “prosecution.” Electric cords are attached to his nipples, and when he refuses to talk, a gangster flips a switch.
Still, the Krays are plenty bad. In a rumble with the Torture Gang, the twins beat a half-dozen men half to death, Reggie swinging his brass knuckles and Ronnie wielding a pair of claw hammers. Ronnie, in particular, pounds the heads and arms and legs of his adversaries, the bloody blows sometimes accompanied with sickening cracks. When it comes to keeping his own crew in line, Reggie gives a man a cigarette, offers a light and, when the man bends down to receive it, hits him in the face. Reggie and Ronnie themselves get into a massive fight: They slap and hit and push and throw and strangle and gouge, breaking bottles and more. Ronnie, in the end, seems to have taken the worst of it, his face being left a bloody, pulpy mess.
One man is stabbed countless times at a party and nearly has his head sliced off. Another is shot in the forehead at a busy bar. Someone is hit by a car. A car crashes into a restaurant. In prison, Reggie is brutally beaten by guards. People are dangled from high balconies. A woman swallows a bevy of pills, killing herself.
Crude or Profane Language
“Don’t swear in my club!” Reggie admonishes a guest. Not that he follows his own rules. The Krays and others use the c-word and the s-word at least four times each, and the f-word more than 150. Also: “a--,” “b--locks” and “b--tard.” God’s and Jesus' names are misused once or twice each.
Drug and Alcohol Content
As Reggie spends more and more time with “business,” Frances finds relief in drugs—sleeping pills especially, but she self-medicates with a variety of other pills, too. People also drink beer, whine, champagne, brandy and a great many mixed drinks. Much of the action takes place in bars and nightclubs. And given the timeframe, when smoking was considered ever so cool, it's no surprise that we see characters sucking on cigars and cigarettes.
Other Negative Elements
The lord’s presence at Ronnie's homoerotic party is eventually uncovered and publicly revealed, but the story is quickly squelched and discredited, given the lord’s standing in the government. (The incident leads to the Krays being given a measure of immunity.) We hear references to prostitution, a protection racket and other fixtures of organized crime. We see gambling, and it's said that the Krays’ American partners are hoping to turn London into the “Las Vegas of Europe.”
Many movies predicated on real life take a few factual events and amp them up—making them more dramatic for action-craving viewers. Legend, for all its awful content, may be guilty of throttling back the realities of London’s underworld. The most horrific events we see the Krays do onscreen are a matter of public record, but there’s all manner of other heinousness that they're rumored to have participated in that doesn't make it into these 130 minutes. And while the tortures we see the Torture Gang carry out are horrific enough, there’s no mention of their other real-world habits of nailing people’s feet to the floor or slicing off toes with box cutters.
But while the movie could’ve been worse, Legend is quite bad enough just as it is. The violence and foul language is terrifically harsh. So while Tom Hardy’s turn as both the brothers Kray may earn him an Oscar nomination, his movie doesn’t warrant much love from us here at Plugged In.
It might be tempting to call this a cautionary tale. Legend does show that bad people doing bad things bring about bad ends. But while the extrapolated story doesn't try to excuse the Krays for their loathesome ways, neither does it shy away from their celebrity. Certainly Universal’s marketers have chosen to emphasize that latter bit of sensationalism, playing up the glamour and big-money madness in the trailers. “Love, fight, live, rule like a legend,” we're told.
America cinema has long raised its glass to the gangster. Maybe it’s time for a different vintage.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronald Kray; Emily Browning as Frances Shea; David Thewlis as Leslie Payne; Chazz Palmminteri as Angelo Bruno; Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read; Colin Morgan as Frank Shea; Taron Egerton as Mad Teddy Smith; Sam Spruell as Jack McVitie; Shane Attwooll as George Cornell
November 20, 2015
March 1, 2016