Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Ecclestone, and David Thewlis
Tom Hardy has reached a point where anything he does, I’m gonna see it. In less than a decade, he’s gone on to do such fantastic and varied work that it’s always a pleasure to see him own the craft of acting. You just gotta look at the varied year he’s having. Showing up as a near silent, grunting mad man in Mad Max: Fury Road, a scummy frontiersman in The Revenant, and playing twins in the movie that’s gonna be discussed shortly, Legend. In each of those movies, he is completely different than the movie preceding it. In Legend alone, he takes up the task of playing twins and makes the two of them distinct enough to be identifiable. And when I heard about Legend and saw the trailer for it, I was hooked immediately. It looked like a fun ole time. With the ability to see it upon me, I took that opportunity and saw it. Sadly, despite the success of Hardy in the dual roles, this movie did not live up to it’s fullest potential.
The story of Legend, from the outset, sounds like a simple enough story. We are to follow the criminal enterprise of the Kray twins in 1960s England. Reggie and Ronald, both played by Hardy, are the kings of the London underworld. But outside of their appearance, they are completely opposite personalities. Reggie is the smooth boss, a man capable of violence when needed but uses his mind and charms more often than not. Ronald, on the other hand, is a psychotic mad man, constantly wanting a good old fashioned shootout in between his sordid homosexual sex parties. Basically the story is their rise and, thanks to Ron’s instability, their fall. In there we see Reggie’s marriage to Frances (Emily Browning), and how the criminal life affects her. All that would be all well and good if the screenplay was up to snuff.
Brian Helgeland is for all intents and purposes, a damn fine writer. Even if he only did L.A. Confidential, condensing that massive Ellroy novel into something filmable is a feat itself. But he’s also done Payback, Mystic River, Man on Fire, and 42. So even when he takes part in a piece of shit like Robin Hood, it’s a rarity. But as a director he’s less accomplished. Payback is, I think, a massively underrated flick. Truly a great pulp movie. And 42 is a damn fine sports flick. But he’s also got A Knight’s Tale and The Order on his cv as well. Those aren’t very easy to wipe away. And it’s sad to say, Legend falls more to that bad side than good. For the writing is pretty limp from him and the directing is serviceable but bland.
On the writing front, the story itself is very choppy and unclear. It moves through events with no real clarity as to why things are happening and why they’re important. The status of the Krays is never fully conveyed too well either, with the apparent war they’re in at the beginning being done way too quickly, as is a later storyline involving the American mafia. Even when it comes to our main characters, there’s not much clarity to their motivations or desires. Christopher Ecclestone is in this as the cop after the Kray’s but is given nothing to do but be stern and determined, nothing to him to show why he wants to personally take them down. But Emily Browning suffers the worst of this, as she is an absolute blank. It doesn’t help that she’s not that good an actress, because she sure as shit can not elevate any material she’s given like Hardy. Cause Hardy’s roles aren’t too well written, other than sane one and crazy gay one, but he’s talented enough to dig deep into these guys and really make something special out of it with his own talent. Cause sad to say, Helgeland wasn’t up to the task with this one.
It’s shame that this movie didn’t work out as well as it could have. It’s not a shitshow like The Order or a weird little misfire like A Knight’s Tale, but it’s failure is that it’s an ok movie with massive potential to be something great. Hardy is so great in these two roles to make it worthwhile to watch, as most of everything around him is bland and/or undefined. Lifeless is a word to describe most of the movie. Only when violence breaks out does it really come to life, cause the violence in here is actually really well done. There’s a fight between the two Krays that’s well done and hilarious, a bar brawl that’s nicely vicious, and a stabbing that is just horribly brutal. But there’s only so much violence to go around to elevate this movie, and Hardy is only one man. The movie is is fine but just leaves you really wanting more. A whole lot more, as the Kray’s story, the edges we get in this movie, is fascinating and worthy of a great movie. Helgeland tries to make a Goodfellas out of this movie, but falls very short of that mark. Even his music cues are cliched and tired. It’s not a good sign when I’d rather watch the myriad gangster flicks this so badly wants to be. Stay for Hardy, but expect nothing more.