Tom Hardy’s commanding presence can’t salvage “Legend’s” mediocre script.
“Legend” is written and directed by Brian Helgeland, based on the book “The Profession of Violence” by John Pearson. It stars Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Colin Morgan, Christopher Eccleston, and Joshua Hill.
“Legend’s” basic, bone-deep lack of personality is evident from its title alone. Legend? Really? That’s a placeholder title if I’ve ever heard one. It tells us nothing about the movie. It is based on the book “The Profession of Violence” by John Pearson. Why not use that infinitely better title, which at least gives us some idea of the subject matter? The film concerns the Kray brothers, identical twins and dual heads of a criminal organization in London in the 1960s. It is based on true events.
Tom Hardy plays both twins. The whole movie essentially rests on his shoulders. Hardy, a great actor, performs admirably here, effortlessly creating two distinct characters. Even if Ronnie wasn’t constantly wearing his glasses, we would know who was who just by how Hardy carries himself. The performances are seamless, and never anything less than believable, but it’s the writing that sinks this thing, because Reggie and Ronnie Kray are not especially interesting characters. Put simply, Reggie is the “normal” one, and Ronnie is the “weirdo.” Reggie is cool, collected, and professional, showing Hardy at his most attractive and suave. Ronnie is openly gay, a paranoid schizophrenic, and a major hothead. He sounds like he should be the most interesting part of the movie. Unfortunately, these disparate personality traits never cohere into any kind of larger personality. As for Frances, played by the serviceable Emily Browning, there seems to be no personality at all. Frances provides the film with voiceover, so ostensibly we are seeing this story through her eyes, but there’s no real reason for that to be the case. Frances’ motivations are never clear. What is it that attracts her to Reggie? Why does she stay with him for as long as she does? Does she have any interests of her own independent of Reggie? Much of her screen time is devoted to begging Reggie to go straight. This is pretty much the most played out mob storyline ever, and “Legend” simply does nothing with it.
We are never sure what really motivates Reggie and Ronnie aside from their, well, brotherhood. Why did they become criminals? Why do they stay criminals? Did they have any other choice? No answers are given or even implied really. And because we don’t understand these characters, we don’t understand the decisions they make, particularly towards the end of the film. As conflict escalates and the film moves towards its climax, there’s no sense of inevitability, and no sense that these characters end up where they do because of who they are. The structure of the plot as a whole is weirdly episodic, with no real thrust or forward momentum. Conflicts arise and dissipate seemingly without purpose, and the ending feels anticlimactic in a way that’s completely unearned. The film, in short, is boring. I felt every second of its 131 minute runtime.
There are a few saving graces. The film looks decent enough. One particular scene, involving a rival gang torturing someone for information is just gorgeously lit and framed, and the fight scenes are fairly involving as well. The punching in this movie is extremely visceral. This is achieved through sound and choreography.
In the end though, I cannot recommend “Legend.” It is a tedious slog.