Review: Legend + Video Review
PLOT: The true story of the infamous Kray twins (Tom Hardy in a dual role) who – in the mid-sixties – dominated the swinging London underworld.
REVIEW: Unless you've seen the 1991 biopic THE KRAYS (starring Spandau Ballet's non-identical Kemp brothers) if you're North American you probably don't know much about the Kray boys. A pair of deadly identical twins, in Britain they've always held a certain mystique. Yes, they were homicidal but they had style. As such, LEGEND is a really suitable big-screen treatment of their criminal reign. It may not have a whole lot of substance and it may seem familiar, but it sure has style.
Naturally, this style comes entirely from star Tom Hardy, who's wisely been given absolute free reign by writer-director Brian Helgeland. In LEGEND you get to see two Tom Hardy's. On the one hand, you have Tom Hardy the movie-star, as represented by his performance as the suave, sophisticated, more honorable (here at least) Kray twin, Reggie. On the other hand, you get Tom Hardy the character actor a la BRONSON, with him pulling out all the method-like stops as the psychotic, mumbling, scenery-chewing Ronald. Watching Hardy act here you can't help but think he's found the ideal co-star – himself.
Hardy really is the whole show here, but he's damn good. Of the two performances, it's a toss-up between which is better. Ronald is the showier part, with him clearly delighting in Ronnie's psycho-ticks, unapologetic homosexuality (with KINGSMAN's Taron Egerton as his lover) – which he uses to disarm some conservative mob associates – and massive lapses into violence. But, he's just as watchable as the smoother Reggie, who cuts an almost Bond-like figure in the underworld, delighting in the style and privilege his life affords him, but wary of Ronnie's mad schemes, such as an idea to build his own city in Nigeria.
However, there's a downside to all of this. Hardy's so good that whenever he's off-screen, LEGEND grinds to a halt. Helgeland's tried to open up the story a bit, giving us entree into the Kray world through Reggie's eventual wife, Frances, as played by Emily Browning. While she does a fine job, this is where the movie starts to really get familiar, with much of it coming off like a replay of GOODFELLAS as Frances battles her disapproving family to marry Reggie, but then bristling when he doesn't immediately reform following a brief, brutal stint in prison. While she's the most grounded character, given how wild the movie is when Hardy's doing his thing as the twins, she feels like a drag. The law and order side of the story also comes off as bland, and of the supporting characters only David Thewlis as the Krays' business manager gets to make much of an impression (although Paul Bettany has a colorful but brief cameo). Some of Helgeland's choices are unfortunate, including the use of Billy Preston's 'Slaughter' in an action scene when it was already used to such great effect in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. The virtually non-stop narration by Browning also becomes a bit of a drag as it simply re-states what we're seeing on-screen and likely could have been deleted entirely.
As such, it's really the first half where LEGEND is at its best, with Helgeland is clearly having a ball depicting the madcap brutality of their world, with several impressive set-pieces including a knockout brawl between Reggie and Ronnie, done with top notch CGI and doubling. As it goes on, LEGEND loses some of its luster and of the 133 minute run-time only the film really only feels like it's really cooking for about eighties minutes or so.
Even still, LEGEND is always worth watching and an easy recommendation. If nothing else, it tells an interesting story and Hardy is magnificent. Oddly enough, while it's imperfect I can't help but think that if they'd been around to see it Ronnie and Reggie would have loved this blockbuster, Hollywood version of their life story. It's all flash and style over substance, but isn't that what the Krays' themselves really were when it came down to it? In the end this is a fitting biopic and a fun watch.