Legend

Legend movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Brian Helgeland

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Otherwise known as the notoriously boring true story of the Kray twins.

Much to the displeasure of anyone who might fairly assume Tom Hardy playing two roles in the same movie means that movie should be twice as fun, Legend delivers not even half the entertainment it promises in its enthusiastic, bonkers-looking trailers by venturing down a street paved in romance rather than the bloodlust of two notorious British criminals.

The good news is that, despite the content, Tom Hardy is still a good reason to shill out the money to see screenwriter Brian Helgeland‘s directorial debut. He shoulders the weight of having to play both Reggie and Ronald Kray — a set-up that indeed implies he would have to act and then react to himself in certain scenes — with aplomb.

But hearing Hardy is really good in Legend isn’t all that surprising. Is it even interesting? Call us spoiled, for the Londoner has pretty consistently demonstrated in times past he can turn on the intensity, and if there were a film that ever tested the limits of that intensity, it would be this one. He inhabits both roles with completely different energies and that in itself is the mark of an actor who is scary good at their job.

Legend certainly requires a lot of the mild-mannered-in-real-life Hardy. His character(s) is/are constantly subject to volatility. As Reggie, “the gangster prince of the East End,” Hardy is subtly menacing; behind Ronnie’s glasses he wears a perpetually sour face, mouth agape like a child’s when he’s not spewing out profanities in the general direction of anyone unfortunate enough to be close to him. There’s nothing subtle about Ronnie just like there’s nothing apparently bad about Reggie.

Generally speaking, there’s very little that’s subtle about the Kray twins. They operate with almost complete autonomy, owning everything from night clubs to casinos to, apparently, small pubs. The cops aren’t very good but they are still on to them. Christopher Eccleston gives some oomph to the powers that be behind the badge and gun, though he’s too infrequently seen to make that much of an impression. Meanwhile, Reggie’s brushes with Scotland Yard feel more like weekend visits than serious consequences.

At film’s open, the Krays’ reign of terror in London has already been established. We know this because we’re told explicitly so in a voiceover provided by Emily Browning’s Frances, the girl Reggie quickly courts and even more quickly marries. Helgeland, rather than showing the rise to power, chooses to tell us about it, a rather disappointing strategy considering the Tom Hardy-shaped weapon he has in his arsenal here. Legend is less about the uniqueness of the Kray twins’ exploits as it is about the personal cost of being a gangster.

There are some benefits to the story shifting to a smaller focus. As Frances becomes more entangled in Reggie’s dealings — despite the fuss her mother makes over her daughter dating a gangster — she also becomes our eyes and ears into the parties and exclusive hang outs that occur. There’s a real vulnerability her character introduces that allows us to get just a little bit closer to Reggie, even though we might not want to. She reveals a tenderness to Reggie that he wouldn’t admit he had to anyone else, much less express it.

Browning manages to draw out a surprising amount of sympathy because she fortunately isn’t a cardboard cutout of a person, unlike the many who supposedly comprise the criminal syndicate known as The Firm. Most of these characters hang like Christmas decoration around the Krays, having very little input but coloring the background just enough so Hardy isn’t just standing in a room alone, talking to himself.

Unlike these thugs, we do feel for Frances when things start getting bad. She didn’t have to marry a notorious criminal of course, but that’s immaterial at this point; Helgeland adapts John Pearson’s ‘The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins,’ and the facts are the facts.

One thing is pretty obvious: Brian Helgeland has been wanting to make a movie about these characters, and, yes, in the loosest sense of the term he has made a movie ‘about’ them. It’s just a shame that proceedings play out so predictably, that there’s not more to this story about crazy powerful, crazy violent mobsters. We never do get that sense these people are legends in their community. I suppose it’s also not fair to expect another Bane, but still. Sparing Hardy’s mad performance, Legend isn’t anything but a shadow walking behind the next big gangster biopic.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 6.15.26 PM

Recommendation: Well-acted but very predictable and unengaging in its focus on a standard love story that doesn’t do much beyond confirm our suspicions that maybe Reggie isn’t quite as charming as he first looks. Legend appeals to big fans of Hardy but the story isn’t anything a gangster/crime thriller aficionado hasn’t seen before.

Rated: R

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “Never mess with a man’s genitals, mate!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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35 thoughts on “Legend

  1. Man, it is super disappointing to see the reviews coming back on this movie. It looked like it was going to be well worth a watch, and the trailer was entertaining, but seems the general consensus is that it is a relatively bland and predictable affair. What a pity. Great review though!

    • As always, thank you muchly! Legend isn’t really that bad, it’s just Tom Hardy’s amazing and complex performance deserved better. Wasn’t a big fan of the emphasis on the love story either. But worse things have happened in movies, I suppose 😉

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  4. Fine review! It sounds like most say the same thing – Hardy is really good but the story has some issues. Still pretty anxious to check it out.

    • Yeah it all just gets to a point where you really appreciate the job Tom Hardy is doing but you want to see him get to actually do some stuff. While he does get to do something, it’s not nearly enough for a film that likes to call itself a gangster/crime biopic

  5. Funnily enough, I watched this earlier today and share many of the same feelings as you. The narration simply doesn’t work and cheapens a movie in which Tom Hardy acts his socks off.

    • Ah that’s good to hear we are on the same wavelength here, cuz for what it’s worth Tom Hardy still delivers, we just don’t get to see enough of his character(s) to create an experience truly worth watching. And yeah, that narration totally threw me off too. Wasn’t a fan.

  6. Nice review, the trailer was promising. I guess gangster films have to have something special nowadays to live up to expectations with so many movies in the genre coming out e.g. Black Mass, the Hateful Eight, etc.

    • Thanks. Like any genre, a movie should probably do something interesting if it has any interest in standing out. Black Mass and this film feel fairly safe and mostly rest on the laurels of the strong performances from their leads, and those aspects do tend to take these films pretty far. But for Legend, I felt there was an even weaker story being told. Black Mass became interesting with Whitey’s ability to buy himself power with everything. In Legend, we’re simply being told how powerful and how dominant these two were. Very disappointing for me I have to say

  7. Well written review Tom. I’m a Tom Hardy fan so I’ll check this out, but thanks for the heads up on that it isn’t as good as it could have been.

    • Ah piss, sorry to burst the bubble for you Rob! 😦 It is worth seeing for Hardy’s double role but yeah, I have the feeling you might get the same slightly disappointed feeling I did when you learn how the story goes.

  8. I’m on the same page as you with regard to this one Tom. I enjoyed Hardy’s cartoonish performance, it’s great fun…especially when both Krays are on the screen together, but otherwise it’s just one of those standard East End London gangster films (though the argument is so many other films have been based in part on the Kray brothers’ real life story that if one film should be a standard cockney gangster saga then it’s this one!). I thought it was a shame that Eccleston’s character was ditched for long periods, and I really didn’t take to the voiceover by Browning at all, though otherwise her performance was OK.

    • Yeah I thought the use of narration was a misstep. Especially when it gets to a point where it makes absolutely no sense to have it anymore.

      I was just frustrated so much time was spent focusing on that romance, b/c there was nothing inherently wrong with that part but it just wasn’t that engaging. Not as engaging as seeing the Kray brothers work their magic on the people of London. People have lambasted Black Mass for not “showing enough.” I think Legend has a much bigger problem with that

      • Yeah I agree; part of the problem is the story coming in when they’re pretty much established, even if there are still turf wars at the start of the film. I wasn’t too interested in Reggie’s romance…more interested in the brothers’ relationship, or their relationship with their parents, which didn’t really come up much.

  9. I’m pretty much in full agreement with you here. Loved hardy, and he is indeed scary-good at his job, but the rest of the film felt really flat. I couldn’t think of anything the say about it, except that Hardy was amazing but, like you say, it devolves into a romantic film. This could have been great if it had been executed with more thought. The tacked on romance feels like something the accountants came up with to sell more tickets.

    • Yeah, agreed. Hardy is the high point in a movie that basically stays flat the whole time. Flat’s a good way to describe it. The one thing I will say is that I don’t see the romance as ‘tacked on’ so much as it just consumes too much of the narrative. Reggie Kray did really develop this relationship with this woman, and it apparently played out similarly to the way the movie describes. The romance is meant to get us to get more close to the Krays, and clearly Reggie is the “more accessible” of the two. Ronnie is just off on his own island, being a crazy fuck.

      I can see why people think th romance feels tacked on though, because it isn’t particularly effective or inventive.

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