Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language throughout, some Sexual and Drug Material
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
(based on the book THE PROFESSION OF VIOLENCE by John Pearson)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis & Chazz Palminteri
I like gangster movies. If you’ve read the site for a while, I think that becomes quickly apparent. So when I discovered that Tom Hardy (one of the best modern actors) was playing the Kray twins in a new big-budget crime flick, I was excited beyond words to say the least. The promotional material looked stellar and the real-life story behind the Krays is an interesting one. Seeing as LEGEND expanded its release this Thanksgiving weekend, I drove out to the only theater in my state that was playing the film. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad or mediocre effort, LEGEND is definitely a disappointment. This film should have been amazing, compelling and had potential to be a new gangster classic. Instead, it’s a pretty standard, slightly tedious affair with many problems and two great performances (courtesy of Tom Hardy).
Reggie and Ronnie Kray are twin gangsters living in the East End of London. Reggie is a calm, collected, suave guy who just happens to run illegal operations out of his night club. Ron is a psychopathic, bloodthirsty lunatic who thrives on chaos and disorder. While Ron’s insane tendencies threaten to upend the Krays’ hold on London, Reggie makes deals with the American mafia and falls in love with Frances Shea, his friend’s sister. We watch as their relationship gets complicated as Reggie tries to keep the rabid Ron on a very short leash.
Out of all the reviews (even negative ones) and commercials for LEGEND, the one thing that’s being praised over and over is Tom Hardy’s dual performance as Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Without a doubt, Hardy is the best thing about this otherwise by-the-numbers flick. As Ronnie, Hardy evokes a somewhat sympathetic gangster with a mean streak that comes out when he loses his cool. As Reggie, Hardy is a tour-de-force of lunacy and mixes dark humor with a vicious no-holds-barred lunacy. The way in which he acts off of other performers and, especially, himself warrants a viewing. His performances are phenomenal, but they are the best thing in an otherwise all too familiar and disappointing film.
One big issue that comes into play is that the screenplay kicks off with the Krays already near their peak. Little is given about their past and how they reached their powerful status. While other crime flicks might seem stereotypical in showing the rise and fall of a fictionalized mafia, LEGEND has the benefit of being based on a real life case of twin gangsters. You don’t often see that and it’s a shame that the producers didn’t take advantage of the early events in the Krays’ crime career. As a result, it takes us a little while to get fully invested in this film. Even when we do, LEGEND doesn’t know what it wants to focus on. Sometimes, it’s about how Ronnie and Reggie are at odds with each other. During other moments, we see Ronnie’s crumbling relationship with Frances. Finally, the film begins to show us a complex investigation by Scotland Yard and then ignores all of that until the underwhelming climax.
Emily Browning is a strong actress to take the screen with Hardy in both roles, but the movie exploits unneeded exposition-filled narration from her to move itself forward. To make things slightly more annoying, Browning’s narration gives way to some hyperbolic statements like “What Ronnie would do next would make him a legend in gangster history.” when what actually follows is relatively tame (especially considering that Whitey Bulger gunned down an informant in a parking lot full of witnesses earlier this year). David Thewlis (a corrupt associate), Paul Bettany (a rival gang leader), and Chazz Palminteri (the American mafia contact) all show up for a couple of scenes each. Their roles are rather thankless and should have been expanded upon. Instead, we’re treated to more useless scenes of Reggie wooing Frances in this supposed gangster story.
LEGEND has its moments. A darkly comical pub fight being one of them. A brutal execution being another. The quarreling amongst the brothers is fun, especially when Reggie confronts the agitated Ronnie in a near deserted night club. The film has strong visuals and the effects bringing two Tom Hardys to the screen at once are flawless. This is the best use of two performances from one actor since 2011’s THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. I just feel that so much potential was lost in LEGEND being unfocused, messy and by-the-numbers on a lot of accounts. Though Tom Hardy’s performances make the film worth a rental, I’d say to keep your expectations relatively low. LEGEND isn’t nearly as legendary, let alone good, as it probably should have been.