True crime film captures truly horrible characters
September 22, 2015 Updated: September 23, 2015

“Legend” is the kind of film that leaves one wondering what exactly cinema should aim for.

A true crime biopic about two of Britain’s most notorious criminals, “Legend” follows the exploits of twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, played by Tom Hardy. The duo ruled London’s underworld in the 1960s.

Both were violent and dangerous. Left out of the film is the fact that Reggie had nearly beaten Ronnie to death in their youth. We meet them after their rise to power ruling London’s East End, with rivals still ruling across the river, though not for long.

Ronnie is supposed to be the bad one. He’s schizophrenic and a sociopath. He loves the violence of the gangster life, whereas Reggie loves the wealth and respect. The story centres around the relationship Reggie has with the love of his life, Frances (Emily Browning), who narrates the story.

Reggie is supposed to be the good thug, the kind we admire because he hurts other bad guys and treats the girl nicely. Except he doesn’t.

And that is one of the more redeeming qualities of the movie. It would have been possible for director Brian Helgeland to give Reggie a pass and play him all the way through as the good bad guy, but he doesn’t.

And so in the end, we are left with a reasonably executed film about two awful people—two hours spent ingesting the violence and fury of two men who some would call legendary.

This is why films like “Legend” raise the question of what is the purpose of cinema. Is it merely to entertain, to fill a few empty hours with something, anything, as long as it is of a certain production quality? Or should it strive for something more elevating, something a little more noble?

“Legend” doesn’t, and it’s hard to fathom choosing to spend two hours with characters as odious as the Kray brothers, no matter how deftly Tom Hardy plays them.