What It’s About
Identical twins Ronald and Reginald Kray ruled the underworld in London during the 1960s. “Legend” is a sordid, grisly movie about these notorious gangsters that unfortunately falls flat midway and isn’t able to recharge, despite Tom Hardy’s remarkable portrayal of the pair.
Disturbing and disappointing, the biopic focuses on the twins’ quick-trigger tempers, their growing empire, and the brutally violent crimes that sent them to prison, while doling out some personal details.
But that only goes so far in explaining what made them tick. Making deals with the American Mafia, and getting tangled in political and sexual blackmail are highlighted, but how these rough East Enders became feared tough guys isn’t.
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Writer-director Brian Helgeland, the Oscar-winning screenwriter for “L.A. Confidential” who wrote and directed “42,” the Jackie Robinson biopic, has crammed too much into an overlong movie. Several characters aren’t given their due — Reggie’s sweet young bride Frances Shea (Emily Browning), who finally leaves him after mental and physical abuse, Ronnie’s boytoy Teddy Smith (Taron Egerton), the Krays’ domineering mother, and their henchmen.
After viewing explosive scenes of the unsavory Krays killing friends and enemies, causing severe bodily harm to many, and even fighting each other, one might not want to know more about them, but without mounting a stronger narrative, the film suffers.
Instead, “Legend” is just an average gangster tale when it had the makings of something stronger, which could have separated it from the pack at this time of year.
The mesmerizing Tom Hardy delivers two distinct portrayals of the Kray twins — the gay, deranged, bloodthirsty and socially awkward thug Ronnie, and the streetwise, charming, dapper businessman Reggie, who is much smoother socially. Through body language, vocal interpretation and some prosthetics, he is able to differentiate the two, and it’s stunning to behold.
For the past five years, since he broke through in “Inception,” I’ve been effusive about Hardy’s special abilities as an actor. With every more prominent role, he is carving out a career that could be legendary. However, he needed the material to be as strong as he is.
The rest of the cast services the material, but doesn’t stand out.
With its groovy fashions and retro interiors, the look of the film effectively sets the time and place. The club scene, so important to the story, has a Rat Pack vibe to it.
Composer Carter Burwell strikes the right tone with his moody score.
What Doesn’t Work
Escalating acts of shocking and gruesome violence are tough to watch.
The thick cockney accents make it hard to comprehend dialogue at times, particularly Ronnie’s mushy phrasing. Sometimes, he sounds similar to Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Yet, Hardy’s virtuoso work can’t salvage the meandering, muddled movie. He is the best — and only — reason to partake of this film.
I can’t wait to see what he does next.
2 1/2 stars out of 4
- DIRECTOR: Brian Helgeland
- CAST: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Taron Egerton, Chazz Palminteri, Duffy and Paul Bettany.
- Rated R (strong violence, language throughout, some sexual and drug material)
- 191 minutes