by Aaron Johnstone
Rated MA15+. Starring Tom Hardy, Emily Browning. Directed by Brian Helgeland.
I can’t remember the last time I learnt something from a gangster. But walking away from the movie theatre after seeing Legend left me pondering the fine line between having it all and having nothing in this world.
Legend follows the story of the notorious Kray brothers Reggie and Ronnie, and their rise to power in the London underworld in the 1960s. They are twin brothers (both played exceptionally by Tom Hardy) who have profound differences, yet are fiercely loyal to each other and their chosen career. Reggie is the savvy and charismatic brains, while Ronnie is the psychotic and impulsive brawn.
The film is narrated by Frances Shea (Browning), who is drawn in to their dark story after being charmed by Reggie, and promptly falling in love and marrying him. She experiences firsthand how successful they are, but also witnesses the sinister side of crime, and how destructive it is to Reggie particularly. The story follows the mob’s inevitable decline into carnage and conflict as the brothers work out what matters most to them.
As a spectacle, it’s an incredibly gripping movie (albeit graphically violent at times). Tom Hardy and Emily Browning do a sensational job of luring us into the story, and showing us how many directions they’re all being pulled in. There are some brilliant lines about the crime world and life of a gangster, and some terrific scenes illuminating how exciting and seductive, yet tragic and ephemeral this lifestyle can be.
‘Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common.’
This observation from Frances is one of my favourite lines in the film. She then goes on to list the similarities. I found this quote really provocative, particularly when reflecting on the nature of power. It promises so much, and people will give so much to gain more, inevitably leading to the abuse of power. For a wealthy nation like Australia it would not be out of place to see people regularly using their financial or legal power (as opposed to physical power in Legend) to intimidate and get what they want. And it’s great that Legend asks the question ‘Is there really a difference between the two’? It makes me think of James 5:1-6 and his stern warning to rich oppressors.
Another reflection I had was with the choice that Reggie is forced to make. At first his marriage with Frances is exciting and vibrant. She is head over heels for him and loves him deeply. He provides warmth and love and makes her feel special, as his prized possession. But before long Reggie’s everyday decisions start to leave her feeling estranged, and abandoned. Frances wants security, commitment and sacrifice. She then gives him the ultimatum to abandon his life of crime, or lose her permanently. It’s the classic decision Christians have to make every day. Do we put to death our earthly nature knowing that we have all we need in Christ? Or, do we walk in the counsel of the wicked, and follow the path that leads to destruction? We can’t have both. Similarly it’s the decision that anyone makes to become a Christian. Choosing to follow Christ who loves us (regardless of what we’ve done in the past) over the ‘promises’ of sin in this world.
Legend is a movie that looks deeply at the dark side of human nature with success. The narration is a nice touch, and the story is captivating viewing. Aside from Browning and Hardy the rest of the characters are pretty forgettable unfortunately. Having said that, I did enjoy seeing these rough and tumble characters regularly sipping on tiny cups of tea, staying true to their British roots. I’m giving it four out of five stars.
Legend releases in Australia this Thursday, 15th October. It releases in the USA on 20th November.