Seriously, how could two Tom Hardy’s go wrong? The actor behind the Mad Max revival, or the ridiculously fun role of Bane on The Dark Knight Rises, and he was absolutely perfect in Nicolas Winding Refn’s early masterpiece, Bronson. Joining with writer/director Brian Helgeland, Hardy has crafted two performances behind the supposedly legendary Kray Brothers, two siblings that ran the criminal underworld in Britain throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s. What is immediately apparent, is that these men may have been interesting back then, but their story has become derivative and the performances don’t fare much better.
Tom Hardy plays Reggie and Ronald Kray, the infamous twins that ruled London behind the scenes for two decades. The movie is the story of their rise and fall, a la Goodfellas or Casino. I reference those two films in that they constantly overshadow the entirety of Legend. Scorsese’s films are classified as some of the quintessential gangster films and for good reason. Legend lacks the gravitas of Scorsese’s direction and the tight editing. Of course, it feels unfair to classify this under those two classics, but director Brian Helgeland constantly uses all the tricks up his sleeve that he could rip off.
The cast aren’t the problem for why Legend doesn’t work. Among the numerous actors are; David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palmenteri, etc. They all exude the atypical character acting that they are known for and seem to know they’re in a gangster picture, but Helgeland doesn’t know what kind of gangster film he wants to make. Between comedic sequences involving the gay, schizophrenic Ronnie Kray that venture on the side of offensive to overly solemn moments featuring the sane and ever serious, Reggie Kray, Legend ceases to stay on one moment long enough for the film to stay consistent in either being informative or entertaining, neither of which Helgeland seems to be particularly good at.
The central trio of Hardy, Hardy and Emily Browning in a thankless role fitting for a particularly bland performance, which Browning is usually good at giving, isn’t compelling enough to carry through the rest of the film. Browning’s increasingly distracting voice-over doesn’t really give confidence in fleshing out her character or other events in the narrative after it over-explains the third drug deal and the consequences of those events. Helgeland’s script really does the film few favors. The more the movie goes on, the more you realize it was made to be an actor’s showcase for Hardy, no matter how needless that is when you look at Hardy’s past work.
While Legend isn’t the worst film of the year (it’s serviceable at it’s very best), it’s definitely a missed opportunity when it comes to what it could have been. Frenetic and entertaining this isn’t, I can hardly call it interesting, but I appreciate what Hardy is doing here. His performances, along with the rest of the cast, aside from Browning, are committed to the film and bring a sense of realism to the pile of garbage that Legend almost was. Here’s hoping for another L.A. Confidential type of success for Helgeland, and not a Robin Hood type fiasco, like Legend.