Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
What’s not to love about the premise of Legend? Tom Hardy plays not just a famous British gangster, but famous British gangster twins, Ron and Reggie Kray. It’s not just a one Tom Hardy mumbling his way through a performance, but two Tom Hardy’s mumbling their way through through a performance. Like I said, what’s not to love? Tom Hardy is already a great actor who deserves significantly more recognition than he receives, and Legend only proves how true that is. Sadly, the same can not be said for this film or even the supporting cast.
During the 1960’s Ron and Reggie Kray gained notoriety as gangsters in the East end of London. During this time they fought with other gangs for control of the city through murder, and arson, and robbery. Legend attempts to take a more personal look at the twins by focusing on their relationship together the more famous they become. Early in the film it is revealed that Ronnie is a Paranoid schizophrenic and needs to be on medication. This reveals itself throughout the film as Ronnie attempts to drag the Kray reign into ridiculous plans that are clearly not beneficial to what the twins plan to achieve. The film also examines Reggie’s relationship with his wife Frances (played by Emily Browning) as she attempts to pull him out of crime and into a normal life as a successful businessman/nightclub owner.
The film struggles with a lack of focus. While Emily Browning’s Frances narrates the story, she barely plays a central role to the story. Most of the time the film focuses on Reggie Kray and how he tries to balance his relationship with Frances and Ronnie. The film would have been significantly better if Reggie was the POV character, and he is for the most part, but his character is never fully realized. The film relies too heavily on audiences having an emotional connection to the situations Reggie finds himself in more than an emotional connection to the characters themselves. For example, throughout the movie Reggie is very sweet to Frances. She begs him to leave his life of crime behind and he continually tells her he will, but he also tries to shield her from the criminal life he leads. He tries to hide the violence from her and keep her in the dark about what he does as a “club owner.” Toward the end of the film, after she gets angry at him, in a drunken stupor, it is implied that Reggie forces himself on Frances and beats her. At this point in the film it seems out of character for Reggie to do this, however, research shows that this was how the real Reggie Kray acted on a frequent basis. The film makes it seem like a one time event. When it’s discovered Frances is taking pills to get through the day, it is assumed its because of how much Reggie lies to her. The film even ends with it seeming like Reggie felt nothing short of love toward Frances.
Tom Hardy does an excellent job as acting as both Reggie and Ronnie. A lot of his performance as Ronnie is in his eyes, which Tom Hardy excels at as an actor. His wild expressions are always noticeable whether the camera is close up on his face or even far away from him. Through his eyes and the things he says, it becomes very apparent that Ronnie suffers from a severe mental disorder. With Reggie, Hardy still manages to convey a lot of emotion through his eyes, although for Reggie the emotion is more caring and thoughtful than the wild eyed Ronnie. Like any other Hardy performance, it is difficult to understand what the Ray twins are saying some of the time, but a lot of this has to do with the thick accent they both have. While the effects aren’t as impressive as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, seeing Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie in the same frame interacting with each other is a feat on its own. Hardy manages to play both twins flawlessly. Emily Browning plays most of the film like a plank of wood. She smiles sometimes. She looks sad sometimes. But she never seems anything but disinterested. The best acting, unfortunately, we get out of her in the film is during the scene where Reggie comes home drunk.
One noticeably great thing about this film is the cinematography. It is beautiful. All of the shots are fantastically composed. There are very few moments where director Brian Helgeland focuses too closely on the actors faces in favor of more ensemble set ups where a majority of the actors can be seen together in a shot. Helgeland also utilizes the architecture of East end London to create frames within the shots that are visually appealing and interesting to look at. This emphasis on architecture adds to the collective character of the Krays since it shows the area they came from and care about.
Legend wasn’t a bad film, but it also wasn’t very good. Tom Hardy brings forth one of the best performances in his career by playing two halves of a pair of twins. This film further solidifies Hardy as one of our modern day great actors. It might not be the best film Helgeland has made, but it is still worth seeing if it interest you. Even the cinematography makes this film worth watching if you aren’t a fan of Tom Hardy.