Legend's biggest draw is a dual performance from Tom Hardy as twin brothers Ron and Reggie Kray, the notorious 1960s gangsters who made headlines in East End London with their violent exploits and by hobnobbing with high class socialites. The trouble is, even after watching more than two hours of their story play out on screen (as written and directed by Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland), I still don't have a very good sense of who these men really were. Legend is a stylish period piece with a lot of flash but very little soul.
Writer/Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton
This film showcases some of the best and worst of Hardy's acting like nothing else we've seen him in before. It seems clear that the actor prefers playing the more interesting Ron, an openly gay paranoid schizophrenic prone to bursts of violence and bizarre behavior (at one point, he walks a donkey into a club for no reason). But Hardy loves adopting voices, even though they can often be almost incomprehensible, and he falls prey to that tic again with Ron, delivering the entire performance through a mumbly voice that sounds as if he's just been injected with Novocaine. That's in stark contrast to Reggie's slick persona and easy-to-understand delivery, and it's to the film's detriment that Helgeland can't decide whether the story should be a straightforward gangster tale or a chronicling of the wacky antics of a crazy man and his brother. While some of the movie is genuinely funny (Ron's homosexuality is played for laughs, and actually works well considering the time period), the writer/director can't wrangle the inconsistent tone.
Reggie is the main character, but Helgeland gives Emily Browning narration duty as his young wife, Frances. It's a curious choice to have Frances narrate this story, and it's a decision that becomes even more peculiar as the film progresses. The movie charts their romance parallel to the rise of the Krays in the underworld, and there's a strange sort of love triangle between the two fiercely loyal brothers and Frances that, in any other movie, would have proven fascinating; here, largely because of Browning's lackluster performance and Hardy's distracting work as Ron, it never quite has the impact Helgeland hopes to achieve.
Legend is full of contradictions. One Hardy performance is great, while the other is distractingly bad. There's an excellent long continuous shot in a nightclub that's a nod to Goodfellas, but utterly terrible song choices that rival Robert Zemeckis' Flight as the cheesiest, most on-the-nose selections in recent memory. Much of the film is devoted to the uninteresting pairing of Reggie and Frances, but there are moments of brilliance when Hardy acts opposite himself (including a no-holds-barred fight between the brothers in an empty club). It's a fine movie overall, but I never felt like I truly understood what made these guys stand apart from any other gangsters that have risen through the ranks of London. Sure, there are some bar fights, the occasional murder, and a few clashes with rival gangs, but it seems to me like we spend more time listening to people talk about how notorious the Krays are than actually seeing them earn that reputation.