WRITTEN REVIEW – Legend (2015)
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston & Paul Bettany
Music: Carter Burwell
Release Date: September 9th 2015
British Actor Tom Hardy is one of the few current actors who have become a huge, big-name star without being behind a regular franchise. Yes, he’s been part of franchises such as “The Dark Knight” Trilogy and “Mad Max”, but he has only been in one instalment of those franchises as opposed to a constant presence like Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible” or Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Hardy has become one of the biggest acting names on the planet through sheer force of will and talent, bursting onto the mainstream scene as a supporting player in ‘Inception‘ before moving onto great movies like ‘Warrior‘, ‘Lawless‘, ‘Locke‘ and more. He’s the type of guy that girls want to be with and guys want to be with.
Sorry, lost my train of thought.
Anyway, the only logical step in his career is for a movie to have more Tom Hardy in it. In this biopic about the notorious Kray Twins, who ruled the criminal underground of London during the 1960s, Tom Hardy is playing both Reggie Kray and Ronnie Kray. ‘Legend‘ is brought to us by Academy Award winning screenwriter turned director Brian Helgeland who did a great job with the 2013 Jackie Robinson biopic ‘42‘, so this story is definitely in safe hands with big-name talent. But is ‘Legend‘ just a Tom Hardy Oscar-Vehicle, or is this a legitimate legendary film-making achievement?
‘Legend‘ takes place in 1950s and 1960s London where the gangster twins Reggie Kray (Hardy) and Ronnie Kray (Hardy) are climbing their way to more power in London. Reggie is smart and level-headed, but Ronnie is mentally disturbed with psychopathic tendencies, but the two make a great pairing with the ambition to rule London while out-witting Leonard Read (Eccleston), the police detective who has been tasked with bringing them in. One day, Reggie meets 16 year-old Frances (Browning) and the two fall in love, leaving Reggie with a reason to leave the criminal underworld, but Reggie is torn between the gangster lifestyle he loves and the bond with his twin brother who is determined to keep his brother on the immoral path.
‘Legend‘, despite following the life of two crime gangsters, is definitely a romanticised version of the story. Despite taking place predominantly in the East End of London, the movie is filmed in a crisp, clean style in lavish, beautiful locations with an eye for variety. The movie is narrated by Frances in a style not too dissimilar from a noir-tale and takes a simplistic look at the Krey Twins and their morality. Yes, they’re gangsters and committing terrible acts of violence and extortion on a regular basis, but ‘Legend‘ lives up to its title by portraying them both as legends in a positive light. The movie is aware that they’re probably villains, but there’s definitely a sense of adoration behind the cameras within the inception of ‘Legend‘.
It does present a very interesting story in how the Kray twins were infallible in the eyes of the U.K. government because Ronnie’s same-sex exploits involved many key political figures meaning that it was a perfect storm of pleasure and blackmail. That way, they could easily be pardoned for any wrong-doings or have the law turn a blind eye. It was an odd chapter of U.K. politics that I was not aware of and I’m glad that the U.K. government have always been massively corrupt as opposed to it just being recently.
With the two twins and their conflicting personalities, the key to ‘Legend‘ working comes down the the actor playing both of the brothers and Tom Hardy is predictably terrific. The effect of having two of him on-screen most of the time works wonders and with the exception of a couple of frames with a poorly CGI’d Ronnie (when both twins are with Leonard Read and taking a photograph – pictured below) the effect is seamless.
It’s easy at first to try and find the cracks in the armour and try and figure out how Tom Hardy was able to have such great chemistry with himself on a technical level, but as the movie progresses you just get sucked into the performances and start appreciating them both as characters as opposed to an incredibly well-handled gimmick. Both brothers have a fight scene together at one point and even here, in a flurry of punches, slaps and grabs, the effect doesn’t buckle. It’s a great technical achievement.
But, of course, most of it comes down to Tom Hardy, who was initially asked by director Brian Helgeland to play Reggie, but Hardy found the loose-cannon Ronnie to be the more interesting character to portray, so both artists decided to compromise and go for both. That context shows in ‘Legend‘ as while Tom Hardy doesn’t phone-in his portrayal of Reggie, you get the sense that Ronnie is the character he’s more engaged with and having a lot more fun portraying. Everything from his mumbled, slurred voice (with even a few hints of Tom Hardy’s Bane from ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘) and ape-like physicality is an acting challenge that Hardy is clearly relishing and he frequently gets some of the movie’s funniest and most quotable lines. Not to mention, the movie gets a lot of mileage out of Ronnie’s potential Oedipus Complex.
That’s another thing about ‘Legend‘, it’s unexpectedly funny. There are a lot of knowing, tongue-in-cheek laughs, though sometimes it’s hard to know if the movie is in on the joke or not. There’s a lot of gallows humour and there’s even a running gag where a fellow gangster, Jack “The Hat” McVitie played by Sam Spruell continually gets lulled into a false sense of security before being punched in the face by Reggie. ‘Legend‘, while not a gory or gruesome movie, is very violent and there are frequent fights utilising whatever is closest at hand, whether it’s glasses, bottles or hammers and it’s all very well filmed and put together.
Once again, Tom Hardy holds the movie together and his performance as Reggie and Ronald elevates the material and is the main reason to check out ‘Legend‘. As Reggie he is effortlessly charming, even though the arc he goes through in the movie has been seen a million times before. ‘Legend‘s story follows the tried and true formula of someone trying to get out of a bad situation but is continually pulled back in by a friend or family member who they hold great affection with (think the template that 2012’s ‘Ted‘ took to its most literal extreme). ‘Legend‘ rigidly sticks to this formula and it actually makes the movie pretty predictable which isn’t helped by its 131 minute runtime which feels 15/20 minutes too long for a movie this predictable.
That having been said, Tom Hardy’s duel-performance really does carry the movie and prevent these narrative weak-points from becoming too much of a hindrance and the period setting, the true story conceit and the crime genre does feel unique for this type of story.
Thankfully the two Kray twins are compelling protagonists/antagonists because the rest of the cast are let down by a ho-hum script. Anyone except for the twins left their depth on the cutting room floor and it’s no fault of the cast. Emily Browning, who I’m sure is trying to find a role that makes the most of her talent as opposed to her appearance, plays the love interest to Reggie and while Hardy and Browning have chemistry, the movie never adequately justifies the relationship between the two outside of a physical attraction. If it was just physical, that’s fair enough, but because Browning’s character plays such a pivotal role in the story, influences many of Reggie’s actions throughout the film and even narrates the freakin’ thing, I’d like to think the movie wants the audience to be more invested in this romance, but the written relationship just isn’t there.
Christopher Eccleston gets minimal screentime as Detective Superintendent Leonard Reed and despite having a big presence in the witty and engaging opening five minutes, he disappears from the movie for about an hour…only to come back so he can leave the story again. I don’t even remember Paul Bettany being in the movie or the role he played, David Thewlis comes across as stunt-casting because his role is minimal at best but it was nice to see Colin Morgan in a small role because that guy needs to be in more movies. Taron Egerton also gets a small role as one of Ronnie’s same-sex partners, though his addition feels like something that should have been in an extended cut.
But what SHOULDN’T have been in the extended cut is Reggie’s moral downfall in the second half of the movie. Seriously, Reggie’s entire character shifts seemingly off-screen. One minute he’s fine, he gets along with his wife incredibly well and then all of a sudden he’s committing horrible, out-of-character acts (even for him) and there’s no build-up or any sense that the shock-value ‘Legend‘ is going for in that moment feels earned.
However, ‘Legend‘ makes up for a lot by being incredibly well filmed. 1960s London feels like a living, breathing world on-screen thanks to great location-shooting, well-built sound-stages, great props and period-detail etc. But what really sells it is the confident camera-work. Some of the best shots of the movie are lengthy, walking-tours of locations, in particularly the nightclub that the Kray twins own which is introduced with a 3-4 minute single shot. Sure, it’s done to show-off to the viewer, but it draws the audience into this location and makes it feel authentic, vibrant and busy.
The camerawork is great and ambitious at points, the violence is frequent and very well staged and the technical accomplishment of having both Tom Hardy’s on-screen at once is something you can’t be hyperbolic about. Although, I don’t recall any of the music by Carter Burwell.
‘Legend‘ is a decent movie that is turned into a strong one by sheer force of will thanks to the direction and cinematography by Brian Helgeland and Dick Pope respectively and the superb double-performance by Tom Hardy. That performance really does cause the movie to excel because on paper it’s a ho-hum story, with witty dialogue and effective moments of violence and a knowing sense of humour despite a predictable structure and an oddly flat supporting cast. ‘Legend‘ is a great performance vehicle for Hardy and a legitimate production achievement, but that’s really all that it is. Thankfully, that takes it a lot further then it ideally should.
I give ‘Legend‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 17th Sep 15