Not to be confused with the other Legend starring the other Tom. Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston and Academy Award nominee Chazz Palminteri star in Legend.
Director – Brian Helgeland
Screenplay – Brian Helgeland
Based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson
Producer – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Chris Clark, Quentin Curtis & Brian Oliver
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material
Reginald Kray (Tom Hardy) is a former boxer who has now become an key part of the criminal underground of 1960’s London. After pulling strings to obtain the premature release of his mentally unstable twin brother Ronald (Tom Hardy) from a psychiatric prison, the two unite in controlling the London crime scene. Their efforts at first are successful, but over time Ronald’s psychopathic behavior begins to cause problems for their business.
You don’t have to do much selling to get me on board for a gangster biopic of the notorious Kray twins played by Tom Hardy and written and directed by the Oscar-winning writer of L.A. Confidential, one of the best crime films of the ’90s. Unfortunately, the final onscreen product isn’t as enticing as it appears on paper.
Writer/director Brian Helgeland knows the crime drama format like the back of his hand, having written not only the aforementioned L.A. Confidential, but also adapting Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. He’s also had success directing the biopic format with the Jackie Robinson film 42. You’d think he could achieve the same success combining the two genres; however, Legend suffers from being either dramatically stagnant for stretches or achingly desperate to mimic Scorsese’s Goodfellas (the narration, soundtrack choices, style of dialogue and shot selection are all obvious reminders).
One of Helgeland’s most curious choices is to have Emily Browning’s Frances provide the narration. It doesn’t make much sense to have the one character who would know the least about the Krays’ criminal doings seem weirdly omniscient about everything that they’ve done. Imagine if Coppola had Kay narrate Michael’s life or Karen narrate Goodfellas instead of Henry. Those two were at least well-rounded characters. Browning has little, if anything at all, to work with here.
The biggest problem with Legend is that it ultimately leaves us feeling nothing for the Kray twins. You don’t have to glamorize the gangster lifestyle like Coppola and Scorsese did for their films. Scott Cooper’s Black Mass was far from a glamorized depiction of Whitey Bulger, but his depiction of Bulger still managed to provoke a reaction out of its audience. There’s little insight provided to the Krays, a missed opportunity given one half of the twin duo being a certified psychopath (beyond his outbursts, his mental state is barely explored), and it’s as if Helgeland instead decided to bank everything on just Tom Hardy’s performance.
As for Hardy’s performance, he gives the dual role his all, and creates two distinct, conviction-filled personalities for both Ronnie and Reggie Kray that liven up the flatline material backing him up. Combined with the modern-day technological ability to seamlessly pair up Hardy with himself, it’s a believable double effort from the actor that further demonstrates his versatility and continues to prove why he’s one of the best working actors of the past five years. It’s just a shame that the film couldn’t match his tremendous effort.
Though the story of the Krays provides ample territory to explore their rise and fall in the London criminal underground, Legend unfortunately falls flat far too often and offers only the occasional insight into the notorious criminals’ background. But in spite of the film’s failings, Tom Hardy’s dual performance provides the film with its sole strength, and injects the generic biopic with what spark it does contain. The film may not be able to live up to its title, but Hardy’s showcase comes close.
I give Legend a C+ (★★½).