Release: Friday, November 20, 2015 (limited)
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.
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.
Running Time: 132 mins.
Quoted: “Never mess with a man’s genitals, mate!”
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