Tom Hardy is BANANAS in Legend
Unfortunately, the movie does not live up to the totally insane bar that Tom Hardy is setting. In Legend Hardy stars as Ronnie and Reggie Kray, a pair of Cockney gangster twins in the London of the swinging 1960s. Reggie Kray is relatively straight-laced, the twin with the business sense who runs their would-be criminal empire. Ronnie Kray is the violence-prone loose cannon who acts out and causes trouble for his square(ish) brother, and who also owns his homosexuality, despite the stricter and less inclusive mores of the time—not to mention the unforgiving criminal underworld. Ronnie is endlessly entertaining—the only way Hardy could have been any better as Ronnie is if Legend was a musical and he got a big show-stopping musical number in the middle of the movie.
Alas, Legend is not a musical. It is instead a conventional biopic—if it weren’t for the gimmick of Hardy’s dual performance, there would be nothing interesting about it at all. Legend focuses on boring Reggie and his attempts to go straight for the sake of his fiancée, Frances (Emily Browning). Frances, inexplicably, narrates the movie, and I don’t know if this is more the fault of Brian Helgeland’s direction or Browning’s somnambulant delivery, but Frances makes for an awful, unengaging narrator. In a movie where Tom Hardy is playing an openly gay, hammer-wielding psychotic Cockney gangster, the straight arrow fiancée is not the character you want relaying the story. I’m also not sure why Reggie is the primary character and not his far more interesting brother.
In reality the Krays were only minor figures in the 1960s London underworld, but they had a flashy moment, thanks largely to Ronnie’s over the top antics. The movie focuses on this moment, with the Krays muscling onto the scene and attracting attention from everyone from the locals to American syndicates. Scorsese alumni Chazz Palminteri pops up as a kind of Joe Bulo, offering the Krays expansion opportunities from America, which is undoubtedly deliberate casting. Legend has a lot of Scorsese DNA—so much that it starts to feel less like an homage and more like a ripoff. Writer/director Helgeland is best known as a screenwriter, including LA Confidential and Mystic River. (He also wrote and directed A Knight’s Tale, which I feel is a major accomplishment.) He obviously loves the crime drama subgenre, but he picked the worst possible way to tell the story of the Krays.
Because who cares about Frances nagging Reggie to go straight when Ronnie is bashing people with hammers and doing standup comedy about how much he hates the patrons in his club? Ronnie is so endlessly entertaining that Legend ceases to make sense every time the focus shifts away from him. But he is the supporting character, and Reggie the leading man, and Hardy does some incredible work distinguishing between the two. It’s not just that Ronnie wears glasses and Hardy makes a weird face while playing him, it’s that Hardy’s entire on screen persona changes. Hardy is one of the few actors who can truly be either leading man or character actor, and as the Krays, he does both. Reggie may be comparatively boring, but when in that role Hardy carries the film capably. Then, as Ronnie, he is every bit the charismatic character actor, stealing scenes and being memorable. It’s a noticeable shift, like changing from a major to a minor key.
Without Hardy, Legend doesn’t work at all, but even with him the movie does everything it can to fail. At a hundred and twenty-two minutes, it’s twenty-two minutes too long. Hardy’s accent is nearly incomprehensible, which will put off less patient viewers, and Frances’s stupid narration will turn off everyone else. Thanks to cinematography by Dick Pope (Mr. Turner, The Illusionist) and production design from Tom Conroy (Vikings, The Tudors), Legend looks great, but despite the twin gimmick it doesn’t offer anything new to the crime genre. Fans of Tom Hardy will find plenty to like, but no one else has a reason to watch this movie.